24 February 2016
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence
Victims of domestic violence will have easier access to legal aid after UK Government U-turn.
Thanks to campaign group ‘Rights of Women’ the Government’s rule changes that hampered victims of domestic violence obtaining legal aid, have been overturned. They argued the rule changes prevented access to legal aid for those at risk of violence.
The Court of Appeal ruled that a requirement for victims of domestic violence to provide evidence from within the last two years was invalid. The evidence accepted was not wide enough as not all victims of domestic violence go through the formal escape routes where you can collect evidence such as non-molestation orders and a number of statutory remedies.
The changes, first introduced in 2013 in order to cut the legal aid bill in England and Wales, as part of the ‘Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012’ that prevented victim’s access to justice, have been removed. The aim of the amendment to ‘regulation 33’ was to protect vulnerable people, so it is right that the exclusion of abuse victims from financial legal aid has been corrected.
The director of ‘Rights of Women’, Emma Scott, said: “The judgment is important recognition of women’s real life experiences of domestic violence and means that more women affected by violence will have access to advice and representation in the family courts.
“Research has shown that 40 per cent of the women responding to our survey just didn’t have the evidence to apply for legal aid.”
The Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, Polly Neate, said: “This ruling will at last mean women and children get some protection in the family courts. We continually hear that survivors and their children are at risk because they can’t get legal representation.
Domestic violence solicitor, Jonathan Casey, said: “Now the requirement to provide evidence of domestic violence has been removed, we should no longer see victims being turned away at the first hurdle or having to face their abusers while representing themselves in court. With the guidance of domestic violence legal specialists more readily available, fewer families will be at risk.”
For more information, see this legal advice guide on Domestic Violence and Harassment.
Read the ruling in full here.
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