Domestic violence and legal aid

Family Law|December 15th 2014

A significant number of domestic violence victims do not have sufficient evidence to qualify for legal aid, a new report suggests.

Amidst a High Court challenge to the legal aid restrictions for domestic violence cases, charities Rights for Women, Women’s Aid Federation England and Welsh Women’s Aid published a report to highlight the extent of the problem.

Almost 40 per cent of the 182 women surveyed across England and Wales “who had experienced or were experiencing domestic violence” said they did not have the correct forms of evidence to secure legal aid.

Under current law, any victim of domestic violence must produce official documentation as proof, such as a letter from the police or a finding of fact from a court, before they are eligible for assistance. However, there is a time limit on these forms of evidence. This means that the evidence will not be accepted if it dates back more than two years prior to the application. The charities’ report found that 23 per cent of victims would have at least one form of evidence if the time limit did not apply.

Evidence was not the only hurdle to legal aid access, the report suggested. Three quarters of respondents said that finding a legal aid solicitor was difficult or very difficult. A third of the women had to travel between 5 and 15 miles to find one and almost a quarter had to travel further.

Due to the difficulty in securing legal aid, 58 per cent of the women surveyed took no legal action. Twenty-six per cent paid for legal representation privately and a further 26 per cent represented themselves.

Emma Scott, the director of Rights of Women, said the current laws have “created a barrier to family law legal aid and to access to justice for women”.

She added that the legal challenge was an attempt to “hold the government to account on their promise to continue to make family law legal aid available to victims of domestic violence”.

To read the full report, click here.

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  1. George Statingfield says:

    But these women may very well ‘not’ be victims of domestic violence as they claim.

    Anyone (female anyway) can say I was a victim of domestic violence and therefore require legal aid to fight my partner in the family courts, which is why the rather lax safeguards of some kind of evidence is necessary.

    Lets not forget the evidence does not have to show there was domestic violence, it just has to show the complainant said there was domestic violence at the time.

    Most of these claims are very likely just attempts to gain access to legal aid and the complainants (not victims) may be perpetrators of domestic violence or as bad as those they complain of.

    About time access to legal aid was controlled, even tho the controls now are ludicrously easy to overcome.

    Time to stop legal aid being used by one parent to punish the other, for made up and often spurious claims of domestic violence.

  2. Dave Darby says:

    Oh, and let’s not forget people going to their GP’s and claiming psychological abuse in order to obtain legal aid. I deal with many people that have approached their GP to get a letter claiming psychological abuse and the success rate of male to female in getting these letters from my own dealings, is that women have 85% more chance of getting this letter than a man. This is another reason why legal aid must be stopped. Legal aid in family courts is gender bias towards the female. OK, I do know some, not many, men, that have obtained it.


  3. Andrew says:

    A system under which the complainant can and the alleged abuser cannot get legal aid is so blatantly non-compliant with Article 6 that MoJ must be waiting for the declaration (here or in Strasbourg) that says so.

    And what will poor Christopher do then, poor thing?

  4. Andrew says:

    And who the hell are the police to issue these letters?

    The ONLY evidence should be (1) a recent conviction or (2) a recent injunction confirmed at a hearing where both sides where heard and both had legal aid.

  5. John Smith says:

    I dont know if you show links, but hopefully these ex parte orders are going to be stopped being given out willy-nilly,

  6. Andrew says:

    Dave Darby, Legal aid must go!

    Dave, I’m aware of your rants regarding legal aid, and how you believe legal aid should be removed from all Family Court cases. You suggest parents should represent themselves, you believe this will be for the better. Do you really believe all parents are able to represent themselves, and gain a successful conclusion? I would have to disagree.

    I’ve been going through this process for 6 years. I have been represented by a solicitor / barrister And also used the services of a McKenzie friend. My experience is this. The McKenzie friend (seen as one of the best) who represented me was given right of audience. I can tell you this did nothing but add further delay to our case. Time which stopped me seeing my child for almost another year. I can confirm without doubt this delay would not have happened had I not used the services of this McKenzie. (not to say all McKenzies are the same) Attempts to circumvent the court system just annoyed the judge, I have to agree I can now see why the judge was not happy.

    My former partner receives Legal Aid under what can only be described as dubious circumstances. There are no grounds for my ex to receive public funding. However my former partner continues to receive funding despite being employed with an acceptable salary. I on the other hand do not have ways of securing funding in the same way. There is no proof of domestic violence as found in a finding of fact five years ago. At times I’ve wanted to challenge the decision of my Ex’s funding. But would it help?

    To remove funding would do nothing but add yet more delays in our case. My ex partner is not someone who could represent themselves. Even with the assistance of a McKenzie.

    Our case is extremely complex and would never reach conclusion without the help of professionals. My belief is not one that the professionals involved use the case as a cash cow, but one of they are working within a system which needs reform. I find the gender argument to be nothing but a way of generating more followers for fathers rights organisations. Forget the gender argument, it’s not the gender that causes the problem, it’s the person using the system to their advantage. I.e breaking court orders knowing there toothless and rarely enforced!

    In conclusion I am grateful my ex partner secured funding by whatever means. As you’ve mentioned within your post, I believe the funding has been given due to intervention of a GP. if this was challenged there would certainly be removal of funding. Removal would cause nothing but delays. All cases are not the same and some cannot and will not be resolved without the help of professionals who know the broken system inside out. I believe legal aid should be restricted to the most complex of cases, those arguing over minor points should not receive funding. Removal of all legal aid will not help people like me, of that I can be sure.

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