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No legal aid for 40% of domestic violence victims

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.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. Andrew says:

    At the risk of sounding like a record stuck in the groove: when a litigant alleging d.v. is given legal aid and the party against whom it is alleged is not – there’s the real breach of human rights in general and Article 6 in particular.

    And that man – usually – MUST be allowed to cross-examine in person if he wishes. It’s his right at common law. It took statute to abrogate that right in the case of d.v. and rape in the criminal courts and there is no equivalent in the civil courts.

  2. Vincent McGovern. says:

    I see the usual pretence that all those women who claim to be victims of domestic abuse are automatically believed by so many in the legal establishment. What about the rights of men and fathers who are falsely accused by female perpetrators of domestic violence playing the gender card. Ohh wait, there is more money for Solicitors and Barristers harvesting the female domestic violence gravy train than there is in administering Justice or protecting the rights of children to have a relationship with both parents. Silly me, should have remembered a man is automatically guilty once accused in the UK.

  3. Luke says:

    Both Andrew & Vincent make what I view as indisputable points here.
    I am particularly annoyed by the Legal Aid issue – it cannot be right that one spouse can threaten to bankrupt the other using Legal Aid and effectively force the non-Legal Aid spouse to surrender. I hear a lot of whining from lawyers about the removal of Legal Aid (which affects their wallets) but NOTHING on this – I wonder why that is ?

  4. Andrew says:

    In divorce not only should Calderbank be reinstated: the LAA should stand in the shoes of the assisted party and be liable for the costs of the unassisted party if the unassisted party makes an offer which is not beaten, with recourse to the assisted party – but the loss should not fall on the unassisted party. There is no logic behind the assumption that the LAA (and incidentally the EHRC) is a special sort of maintainer – to the unassisted party one maintainer is the same as another.

  5. John Baker says:

    If one party to a dispute is given legal aid to argue their case, should not the accused be given it to reply? If the state supports only one side, does this not prejudge the case?

  6. Regulation that plagued family lawyers declared 'invalid' by Court of Appeal - Legal Cheek says:

    […] is that the experience of domestic violence sufferers cannot be captured in a piece of paper. In a survey of women that claim to be victims, 37% did not have the requisite documentation to prove this, meaning that they could not get public […]

  7. More domestic violence victims to get legal aid, lawyers still have no praise for Liz Truss - Legal Cheek says:

    […] domestic violence victims couldn’t provide the evidence demanded by the Legal Aid Agency (LAA). A more recent survey of women who claim to be victims found 37% didn’t have the requisite […]

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