Legal aid applications via the domestic violence gateway are up 21%

Divorce|Marriage|July 3rd 2018

Applications for legal aid via the domestic violence and child abuse gateway have increased by 21% since last year. John Bolch joins us on the blog to look at whether people are manufacturing abuse allegations to get legal aid.

The latest legal aid statistics published show a spike in the number of applications for legal aid via the domestic violence and child abuse gateway (growing 21%).

When legal aid was abolished for most private law family matters back in 2013 the government took the decision to keep cases involving domestic abuse in scope. This meant that where a party or their children had been victims of domestic abuse or violence then they could still obtain legal representation. It is known as the ‘domestic violence and child abuse gateway’.

This appeared to be a sensible decision. Obviously, victims of abuse need protection, and the idea of them having to represent themselves in court is abhorrent.

But there is a problem, and one that, as we will see, was clearly in the mind of the government at the time they made the decision to keep domestic abuse cases in scope.

Anyone with any experience of family law will know that some parties are prepared to go to any lengths to achieve the result they seek. Irrespective of the issue of legal aid, such people are quite prepared to manufacture serious allegations against the other party, in order to help their case.

Add to that the fact that they will not want the disadvantage of not having legal representation, and the temptation to make up false allegations of domestic abuse in order to get legal aid might be overwhelming.

Some will say that such things are a rarity. Others will say that they are happening all the time, and may point to the legal aid statistics to back up their case.

The latest such statistics have just been published by the Ministry of Justice and the Legal Aid Agency, for the period January to March 2018, and I suspect that they may have raised a few eyebrows amongst those who believe that the availability of legal aid for cases involving domestic abuse is being abused.

The statistics show that in January to March 2018 applications for legal aid via the domestic violence and child abuse gateway increased by 21% compared to the same period in 2017. The number of such applications that were granted also increased (up 14%) compared to the same period in 2017. These are the highest quarterly figures since the inception of this type of application in 2013.

So the question is: why are so many more people using the gateway? Has there been an increase in the incidence of domestic abuse, or in the number of people abusing the gateway? The answer is actually neither.

As I mentioned earlier when it set up the gateway the government was concerned that it may be abused. It, therefore, imposed strict evidence requirements upon applicants. Anyone claiming to be a victim of domestic abuse would have to provide evidence of the abuse, and that evidence would have to be in one or more specific forms.

In January this year, those evidence requirements were relaxed somewhat, and this clearly appears to have been a major contribution to the increase in gateway legal aid applications in the first quarter of this year.
So the statistics cannot be relied upon as definitive proof that the gateway is being abused.

Still, it would be surprising if the gateway was not being abused, even if only by a few. And of course, if it is then the victims will be those who have to defend themselves against false allegations, rather than those who have been abused. It’s an impossible balance to achieve, and the sort of issue that will inevitably arise when you restrict access to legal aid to just a limited group.

On the one hand you have to protect those in need, and on the other hand, you have to protect both innocent victims and, of course, the public purse, from abuse. There will always be some who ‘slip through the net’, on both sides. Not only will there be some who abuse the system, there will also be some genuine domestic abuse victims who will still not be able to satisfy the evidence requirements, and there are also other vulnerable people, such as those with learning disabilities or language issues, who will not be able to access the legal help they need.

The only answer, of course, is to bring back legal aid for all. That will not of course stop some making false allegations of abuse, but it may well reduce the incidence of such cases. Sadly, it is never going to happen.

You can read the full legal aid statistics here.

Author: John Bolch

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

Comments(7)

  1. Andrew says:

    Every case in which one party is and the other is not eligible for legal aid is a blatant breach of Article 6.

  2. DD says:

    If you are found to have made a false allegation to gain legal aid, then this is fraud, and you should be charged with fraud. After a few convictions less people will make false allegations.
    Secondly, when you have a family law system based on creating conflict to improve your chances of winning, when it is not about winning but allowing children to have a relationship with both parents, people will use whatever tools are available.
    If you started from a level playing field, ie 50/50 contact, then the conflict is removed. Of course this will never happen as too many people within the legal system would not be able to extract so much money from so many

  3. Terrence james Scales says:

    I’m astounded at this blog’s belief that only in January of this year has the relaxation of the evidenced threshold been relaxed.
    There is no threshold, a woman has the privilege of victim hood bestowed upon her by her gender, she Will, in the main manipulated by a solicitor who is probably scraping the bottom of the moral spectrum walk into a court make allegations that have not one shred of evidence to back them up and with extreme proclivity the district judge will grant orders that in Stalinist Russia would be seen as draconian.
    How can a man like you write such untruths about evidence required, what is in your opinion the definition of evidence? I’m telling you from experience, I am currently without residence, evicted from my own home within a week, my 3 Year old son and I were alienated from each other for five months, predicated on allegations, no evidence, the tangible evidence to refute the allegations was in my possession, the district judge did not allow the evidence I had to be heard, she just awarded the disgusting malevolent occupation order by words of my wife alone. family law in its present form is the most destructive weapon being deployed on society today in the modern world. I’d go as far as to say it will destroy western society.
    Fatherless family’s throughout history have always been the root of a civilizations destruction.

  4. Jo Archer says:

    It is worth mentioning that cuts to the Legal Aid Budget have had a disproportionate impact on women’s ability to access justice (and, consequently, their children)…in fact, so few lawyers apply to the court to force the other party to pay for the legal representation of their clients (under the equality of arms principle) that I would suggest it is STILL easier and quicker to apply for legal aid, even with the necessity of satisfying a government funding body’s requirements! It is by no means proven that the system is being misused….a possibility for the rise in applications may be a greater awareness of Emotional and Financial Abuse.

    https://justice.org.uk/legal-aid-human-rights/

  5. Stitcheduo says:

    Even before legal aid was withdrawn women, in the main, were incentivised to make false allegations of domestic abuse to secure occupation of the family home and exclude fathers from the lives of children. False allegations of domestic abuse has been endemic in divorce/separation for quite some time, often encouraged by legal professionals.

  6. Andrew says:

    Jo, orders for one side to advance money for the other side’s costs are rare because the sort of disparity in liquid assets which would justify them is rare. The husband (usually) cannot be left unable to meet his own costs – or to eat!

  7. Terry james Scales says:

    I paid 60% costs of my wife solicitors fees, an olive branch to secure contact with my son. I was intending to contest all her allegations, I had evidence and she had none, but my chances of the non molestation order being overturned according to the prevailing advice was very slim.
    Jo, in the main, men are well and truly hammered by family law.

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