The Labour Party has promised to make legal aid easier to access in domestic violence cases.
The party has pledged around £5 million to make changes to the current legal aid system.
While the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act essentially eliminated legal assistance in family cases, it allowed for a domestic violence exemption. However, many women’s campaign groups have criticised the qualifying requirements as unrealistic.
As a result, partners who allege domestic violence have sometimes been cross-examined in court by the person they have accused and others have been unable to adequately separate themselves financially.
Labour justice spokesman Sadiq Khan said it was “a disgrace that thousands of victims of domestic violence have been denied justice” by the cuts to legal aid. “Many have been trapped in abusive relationships and their suffering prolonged as a result”, he added.
The suggested reforms to the system include a ban on GPs charging for letters which can serve as proof domestic violence has taken place. The party is also pledging to review the current regulations which place a two year limit on evidence of violence.
If they are successful in this week’s general election, Labour will “widen the number of organisations that can be used by victims to obtain proof”, Khan said. He called for “much greater flexibility in the system to take into account the really difficult circumstances faced by many victims of domestic violence.”
Emma Scott, the director of campaign group Rights of Women, welcomed the proposal. She said that the legal aid cuts have had a “devastating impact” on victims of domestic violence and that the evidence requirements should be amended to “reflect the reality of women’s experience of violence”.
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