Women and children could die because of legal aid cuts says former attorney general


Women and children could die as a result of the Government’s legal aid cuts, warns a former attorney general, who will today make a last-ditch attempt to overturn the changes in the House of Lords.

Baroness Patricia Scotland said restricting legal aid to victims of domestic violence who could provide evidence such as a criminal conviction against the perpetrator, a non-molestation order or an active child protection plan from the past 12 months would lead to a rise in deaths and assaults against women and children.

Medical evidence from a GP, A&E, counsellor or women’s refugee would not be enough to qualify under the new proposals which are part of coalition plans to try and slash £350m from the legal aid bill.

Half of all domestic violence victims will not qualify for legal aid to help them and their children safely separate from abusive relationships, according to research by Rights of Women and Welsh Women’s Aid. While most victims surveyed had collaborative evidence to show they were receiving support, most would not satisfy the new rules.

The costs of domestic violence fell from £23bn to £16bn between 2003 and 2010 as a result of a fewer murders and more convictions. Baroness Scotland told The Independent that progress made by focussing on early intervention was under threat unless the “unrealistic” restrictions and time limits were relaxed. Her amendment is supported by senior cross-bencher peers Lord Ian Blair, former Metropolitan Police chief and Baroness Butler-Sloss, former head of the Family Division of the High Court. No peers, apart from the minister, spoke-up for the changes during an earlier Lords debate.

Baroness Scotland, founder of the Eliminate Domestic Violence Global Fund, said: “We saved money and we saved lives, and in 13 years of government, the Lib Dems and Tories never made domestic violence a political football. It is extraordinary that the same people are now pretending that they don’t know what damage this will do. Even if the Government doesn’t give a stuff about the victims and the dangers to children, if they just think about the money, these changes do not make fiscal sense.”

Campaigners such as the National Federation of Women’s Institute say the new rules will fail victims too scared or traumatised to go to the police. Two thirds of women using Women’s Aid refugees in 2010 did not report the first incident of abuse to police, but typically after three to five times. The 210,000 WI members are being urged to ask their MPs to protect domestic violence from the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill.

A MoJ spokesman said: “The Government is committed to supporting victims of domestic violence. We have put it beyond doubt that those who have suffered physical, psychological or financial domestic abuse will continue to receive legal aid to help them to resolve any separation disputes over property or child contact.”

The government is also facing serious challenge to it plans to cut legal aid for all clinical negligence claims except obstetric cases involving babies who suffer brain damage in their first eight weeks. Several peers are also supporting an amendment to make the Ministry of Justice carry out an impact assessment before any of the cuts are imposed impact of the cuts

Research by King’s College London found the cuts to legal aid for clinical negligence, family law and social welfare would cost at least £139m in unintended consequences.

Case Study:

Jane*, 40, left her husband after 15 years of verbal, emotional and physical abuse but now must fight for custody of their young son, her home and financial support through the courts because her husbandrefused mediation.

A few years ago she called the police after he grabbed her throat in front of their son, but he was let off with a caution. He smashed her head open but theA&E visit did not count as evidence. She has cut her working hours to qualify for legal aid because she has no savings and her family cannot help. Under the new rules, she wouldn’t qualify for legal aid.

Her mother, Judy*, said: “After he took to drinking, he became very verbally abusive, always putting her down, threatening to hit her. She’d call me at all hours because she was so scared. She would leave but then he’d work his magic, promise to get help. Finally she left him last year because of her son. “She’s had to borrow money for a flat, for lawyers, for petrol, but we’re retired and can’t help her any more. The legal bill could be £20,000, so without legal aid she’d have to represent herself, but she’s under so much stress that I’m not sure she could do it.”

*Not their real names

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Client Services Assistant

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Client Services Assistant is ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior / Senior Sales Broker - OTE £100,000

£20000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportuni...

Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Duty Manager is required to join one of the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Leader

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Team Leader is required to join one of the l...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor