The Law Society is supporting a challenge brought by the Public Law Project on behalf of Rights of Women, over the lawfulness of Government changes to legal aid which are preventing victims of domestic abuse from getting legal aid for family cases, even when it is clear there has been violence, or there is an ongoing risk of violence. Rights of Women argues that this is not what parliament intended.
Legal aid changes, introduced by the Government in April 2013 include regulations which set out what evidence victims of domestic violence have to provide. This evidence can be extremely difficult for many people to get and in many cases is subject to a 24 month time limit - although perpetrators may remain a life long threat to their victims.
Legal aid is a lifeline for victims of abuse, enabling them to escape from abusive relationships, protect their children, and manage their financial situations. Access to justice is vital in these cases - the statistics are stark: two women are killed each week by a current or former partner and 500 recent victims of domestic violence commit suicide every year.
Emma Scott, director of Rights of Women, said:
'Without legal aid women affected by domestic violence feel unable to access the kinds of legal remedies which enable them to safely exit violent relationships. In our most recent survey, half of all women who were ineligible for legal aid because they did not have the required evidence of domestic violence said that they took no legal action as a result, leaving them at risk of further violence and even death. This legal action is taken on behalf of those women in order to hold the government to account on their promise to continue to make family law legal aid available to victims of domestic violence.'
Law Society president Nicholas Fluck said:
'The LASPO legal aid cuts have resulted in radical consequences for access to justice with the worst impact affecting the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of society. It is vital that survivors of domestic abuse can bring evidence to satisfy the broader statutory meaning of domestic violence, not the over-strict tests required by the regulations as they now stand. Survivors should not be excluded from accessing legal aid for family law disputes against an abusive ex partner or relative.'