Current restrictions on the provision of legal aid in family court cases involving domestic violence will be loosened next year, the government has announced.
Under present regulations, legal aid is only available if the party claiming to have experienced violence – or who is thought to be at significant risk of it – can provide certain types of evidence and if the alleged violence took place within the last five years.
But this will change next month, Justice Minister Dominic Raab explained:
“We have listened to victims’ groups and carefully reviewed the criteria for legal aid for victims of domestic abuse in family cases.”
Now the five year time limit will no longer apply, and a wider range of evidence for abuse will be accepted, including statements by victim support charities and housing officers – in addition to the Police, doctors and social workers.
The Minister claimed the changes would benefit the predominantly female victims of domestic violence:
“These changes make sure that vulnerable women and children get legal support so their voice is properly heard in court.”
He did not say what would occur if their other party in the case was themselves unable to afford legal representation but also ineligible for aid.
The restrictions were introduced by the much discussed Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO), which came into force in 2013.
Full details of the changes will be available when the new regulations are published later this week.
Elspeth Thomson is chair of the legal aid committee at family law organisation Resolution. She said:
“We’ve been calling for changes to the evidence gateway since LASPO was implemented in 2013 and welcome this news. Parliament has committed to protect victims of domestic abuse so ministers have a duty to ensure that those who need legal aid are able to access it.”
Campaign group Rights of Women previously battled the restrictions on evidence through the courts, finally securing a Court of Appeal ruling in their favour last year.