Two thirds of domestic abuse victims do not realise they are eligible for legal aid, new data has revealed.
The Law Society and the Legal Services Board recently commissioned a ‘legal needs survey’ of 8,912 people across England and Wales, the largest study of its kind to date. They found that 20 per cent of those who said they had been victims of domestic abuse believed they did not qualify for legal aid and a further 47 per cent did not know that they could apply.
A massive 83 per cent of participants did not know that legal aid was sometimes available in family law matters. Meanwhile, 86 per cent did not know that mediation was an option to approach such problems.
The way people dealt with their legal issues varied. More than a third – 35 per cent – sought out legal advice while 15 per cent turned to family or friends for help. By contrast, 34 per cent of those surveyed said they tried to deal with the legal system on their own and 13 per cent said they simply did nothing.
Law Society President Jonathan Smithers said the poll highlighted “the need to raise awareness among the public of legal issues” and to explain how they can seek help. He added that legal advice is “a fundamental right, essential to democracy and a cornerstone of justice”.
This lack of knowledge among the public about who can and cannot access legal aid is affecting “the most vulnerable in our society who may find themselves trapped in violent relationships”, he claimed.
In February, the Court of Appeal declared the current legal aid requirements for domestic violence victims invalid. This decision was made at the end of a lengthy court battle by women’s campaign groups. They claimed that the requirements introduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act in 2013 were too high for many victims of abuse.