U-turn opens up legal aid to domestic abuse victims


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Indy Politics

The Government has signalled a major U-turn in its reforms of the justice system to make it easier for the victims of domestic violence to claim legal aid.

Ministers had faced criticism that new legislation going through Parliament would make it too difficult for people abused by their partners to get the advice as the definition of domestic violence was too narrow.

But Ken Clarke, the Justice Secretary, said yesterday the Government was amending the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill to make it easier for both women and men to receive the taxpayer-funded support.

He said any victim whose partner or ex-partner had a caution for violence against them would be entitled to aid, while a note from a GP would also entitle them to support. Under the Government's original plans, only people who had pursued their domestic violence case through the courts would be able to claim legal aid.

But campaigners said that many women were too scared to make a complaint to police for fear of reprisals and so would be unable to claim the legal support they needed.

Mr Clarke told the Commons the changes were “fairly formidable”. He said: “The Government has responded, because of our concern on domestic violence, pretty generously.”

He told the Commons the Government would be adopting the Association of Chief Police Officers' definition of domestic violence, which not only includes physical abuse, but emotional and psychological harm as well.

Women and men admitted to a refuge and those receiving social services support will also be entitled to claim legal aid.

Mr Clarke made the U-turn following a series of defeats in the House of Lords. But he insisted that the Government would not be making any further concessions.