Cuts to legal aid have resulted in domestic violence victims struggling to receive justice, a new report has claimed.
The charity network Citizens Advice Bureau surveyed over 300 of its advisers about how the cuts had affected their work. A third of respondents claimed that they see fewer people willing to pursue legal action due to the funding barriers introduced in 2012. One in five advisers reported an increase in domestic violence cases in which the accuser has represented themselves.
One of the central issues highlighted in the research is the difficulty in gathering evidence to qualify for legal aid. One in four advisers said this was “a major barrier” to resolving such cases. Under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO), domestic violence must be proved before any assistance is available. Acceptable evidence can include a letter from police or a finding of fact from a court.
However, the Bureau claims that sometimes even that level of evidence is not sufficient. They cited the case of a woman who could not get legal aid despite the police being called, taking statements, and telling her they would file a restraining order on her behalf. She was told there was no record of such an incident.
Gillian Guy is the chief executive of Citizens Advice. She said that domestic violence “must not be a test case for downsizing justice”. She add that the coalition government’s “assurance that it will protect access to legal aid for domestic abuse victims is not standing up”.
Meanwhile, the Law Society is backing an appeal against legal aid restrictions. In January, the High Court rejected campaign group Rights of Women’s legal challenge against the current rules.
A spokesperson for the Law Society said that legal aid was “often the only way that those who suffer at the hands of abusers can bring their case before the courts”. They added that they were backing the appeal against the High Court’s decision because the “unrealistic regulations” in LASPO meant that accusers were being forced to appear in court without representation.