Current legal aid requirements in domestic violence cases have been declared “invalid”.
When the coalition government introduced the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) in 2013, they effectively eliminated legal aid in family law cases. However LASPO made an exception for victims of domestic violence if they could prove it had occurred within the previous two years.
Campaign groups claimed that the level of proof required was so high that many victims were rejected “at the first hurdle” when they applied for help. Last month one such campaign group –Rights of Women – claimed that as many as 40 per cent of victims go without legal aid. The group applied to the High Court for the changes to be declared unlawful but were denied in January 2015.
They later challenged that ruling in the Court of Appeal, and today, Lord Justice Longmore, Lord Justice Kitchin and Lady Justice Macur reversed that decision and ruled that the requirements were “invalid”. They were also critical of the exclusion of financial abuse victims from legal aid. Financial abuse is the unlawful use of someone else’s money or property.
Rights of Women director Emma Scott called today’s decision an “important recognition of women’s real life experiences of domestic violence”. As a result, she continued, more victims would have “access to advice and representation in the family courts”.
Fellow campaign group Women’s Aid welcomed the decision, calling the two year rule “grossly unfair” as domestic violence and abuse can often carry on after a relationship has ended.
The Law Society supported Rights of Women during their initial High Court application. President Jonathan Smithers said the Court of Appeal’s ruling meant that “access to safety and justice will no longer be denied to the very people the government expressly sought to protect”.