Almost 40 per cent of domestic violence victims cannot access legal aid, a campaign group has claimed.
In 2012, the coalition government enacted the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO). This legislation effectively eliminated legal aid for family law cases. However, it did provide an exception for victims of domestic violence. If someone can prove that such violence has occurred, they will be entitled to legal aid.
However, such proof is not always easy to access. Campaign organisation Rights of Women have conducted an online survey of 239 women who claimed they had suffered violence at the hands of a partner or loved one. They found that as many as 37 per cent did not have the required forms of evidence to qualify for help.
President of the Law Society Jonathan Smithers called legal aid “a lifeline for victims of abuse”. He said that the research conducted by Rights of Women “shows that access to safety and justice is still being denied to the very people the government expressly sought to protect”.
The results of the survey were released shortly before this week’s Court of Appeal hearing on legal aid. The court is set to rule on a High Court decision from last year which rejected the organisation’s legal challenge against the domestic violence regulations in LASPO.
Emma Scott, the director of Rights of Women, said that three years after the legal cuts were implemented many people still “do not have the required pieces of paper to prove they have experienced domestic violence”.
Without legal aid, those victims are “at risk of further violence and even death”, she added. The group’s appeal against last year’s High Court’s decision is the organisation’s attempt to “hold the government to account on their promise to make family law legal aid available to victims of domestic violence”.
The Court of Appeal hearing is scheduled to begin on Thursday 28 January.
Read the Rights of Women research report in full here.