MoJ survey on legal aid for domestic violence victims

Family|June 16th 2016

For reasons that will become apparent, this is going to be one of my shortest posts here, at least in terms of content written by me. However, it is an important issue that needs to be publicised.

The Ministry of Justice (‘MoJ’) is carrying out a survey on the evidence requirements for domestic violence victims seeking legal aid. The requirements were brought in as part of the last government’s efforts to reduce the legal aid budget, which included abolishing legal aid for most private law family matters, unless domestic violence was involved.

To explain what it is about, the survey begins with the following:

“The Ministry of Justice is currently reviewing the domestic violence evidence requirements for accessing legal aid in private family cases. We want to be confident that victims, or those at risk of domestic violence, are able to access legal aid and that the process for doing so is as straightforward as possible.

Legal aid is available for victims, or potential victims, of domestic violence in private family cases, such as those concerning child or financial arrangements following a relationship breakdown. To qualify for legal aid, applicants must prove they have been, or are at risk of being, a victim of domestic violence by submitting at least one form of evidence from a prescribed list set out in legislation. The evidence must come from some point during the period five years before the application for legal aid (increased from two years in April 2016). A few examples of the types of evidence accepted are as follows:

  • a relevant unspent conviction for a domestic violence offence;
  • a letter from a health professional who has examined the person and is satisfied that they had injuries or a condition consistent with being a victim of domestic violence;
  • a Domestic Violence Protection Order.”

Unfortunately, I can’t take part in the survey myself, or say a lot that is relevant to it, as I am not practising and it is intended to be completed by people within organisations working with victims of domestic violence, in particular enquiring as to their experiences since the requirements were brought in.

However, I will say this…

Obviously, the government brought in the requirements because, whilst it acknowledged that victims of domestic violence would still need legal aid, it feared that spurious domestic violence claims would be used to enable people who would not otherwise be eligible to obtain legal aid, thus circumventing the whole point of the legislation.

Now, previously, and when I still did legal aid work (admittedly a long time ago), victims of domestic violence did not need to produce independent evidence when applying for legal aid. The legal aid authority (whoever it then was) simply accepted a statement from the applicant, explaining what abuse they had suffered, and/or why they feared they would suffer abuse. I really don’t see why applicants now can’t be trusted to do the same, rather than be put through the extra trouble, stress and (vitally, in some cases) delay of having to obtain independent evidence. Most people can surely be trusted to be honest, and if the odd truly spurious claim gets through perhaps they could be penalised in costs by the court, once their evidence had been properly tested and adjudicated upon (obviously applicants would have to be made aware of this risk at the outset).

Anyway, those are my few thoughts. Clearly, the survey is important, and if you are able to take part in it, please do. It can be found here. Responses should be in by Friday the 1st of July.

Image by Bill Smith via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

Author: Stowe Family Law

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Comments(6)

  1. jon says:

    Most people can surely be trusted to be honest

    LOL

  2. John Bolch says:

    Oh dear, so cynical.

  3. spinner says:

    “I really don’t see why applicants now can’t be trusted to do the same” – No offence but can you really not see why ?

    “Most people can surely be trusted to be honest” – You must have lived a very sheltered life.

    “once their evidence had been properly tested and adjudicated upon” – When exactly did this happen if all that was needed to get legal aid was to have the say so of the women. They got the legal aid backed up by nothing and an order of some kind in place and then their evidence is never tested. This is the worst part of the legal system in my view, every claim of domestic violence must be investigated by the police and prosecuted if they are going to rely on it as the basis for claiming legal aid. If there’s no prosecution, it didn’t happen, innocent until proven guilty.

  4. Paul Apreda says:

    I promised myself that I wouldnt waste mine (and of course everyone else’s) valuable time commenting on this blog BUT now I’ve been reinvigorated by the realisation that John’s comments are in fact ironic!!!
    Touche John – you really had me going for the past few months……well done 😉

  5. The Devil's Advocate says:

    ” • a relevant unspent conviction for a domestic violence offence;
    • a letter from a health professional who has examined the person and is satisfied that they had injuries or a condition consistent with being a victim of domestic violence;
    • a Domestic Violence Protection Order.”

    So if a person in a relationship obtains Legal Aid when the above is not proven, then why then were they able to gain the like and ruin my children’s life. too. Corruption in the legal system and synonymous with the entire judiciary of this nature and part of the terroristic psycholphilia promoted and acted against the children.

  6. Andrew says:

    Yet again the elephant in the room is ignored: namely of course the alleged perpetrator. He – usually – must manage without legal aid, and there are some who would exclude him from the courtroom and more who would not allow him to cross-examine the complainant in case she gets upset. If that is a level playing field what is not?

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