Campaigners gathered outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London yesterday to publicise their challenge to the current legal aid rules.
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) effectively eliminated legal aid for all family law cases between individuals, such as divorce.
While there is an exception in the Act for domestic violence cases, campaign group Rights of Women claim the evidence level required to qualify for legal aid is too high.
As things stand, if someone wishes to allege domestic violence, they must produce certain evidence against their partner. This can include a criminal conviction for domestic violence, a police caution or a court finding of fact. Any allegation of domestic violence must be backed up with official written documentation, such as a letter from the police.
Rights of Women believe these requirements have prevented many victims of domestic violence from getting the legal aid they require to effectively challenge their abusers in court. As a result, the group claims, these women put themselves at risk of further violence.
Backed by the Public Law Project and the Law Society, Rights of Women have taken their objection to the High Court, arguing that the rules do not reflect the intention of LASPO.
Emma Scott, director of Rights of Women said the challenge was undertaken “to hold the government to account on their promise to continue to make family law legal aid available to victims of domestic violence.”
The government disputes the group’s claims. A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said the “majority” of applications for legal aid in domestic violence cases since the introduction of LASPO have been approved.