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.