Government’s cuts 'force victims of domestic violence to face abusers in court'

Reduced legal aid funding leaves women fending for themselves

Kayleigh Lewis
Friday 29 January 2016 19:26
A quarter of all women experience violence in their lifetime
A quarter of all women experience violence in their lifetime

Legal aid cuts are forcing domestic violence victims to face their abusers in court, campaigners have warned.

The cuts, recently upheld by the Court of Appeal, mean there are more stringent tests when applying for legal funding, which often leaves abused women to fight their cases without legal assistance.

There are concerns that this will leave women unable to escape their abusive relationships, and to protect their children.

According to the charity Rights of Women (ROW), which has been campaigning for the legal aid changes to be overturned, 500 victims of recent domestic abuse commit suicide every year, and two women are killed weekly by a current or former partner.

And although 1 in 4 women experience violence in their lifetime it is estimated that only 35 per cent of all incidents are reported to the police.

Emma Scott, Director of ROW, said that the group is "devastated" by the outcome. "This decision means that women who remain at risk of violence will continue to be denied access to vital legal advice and representation in family cases.

"Our most recent research shows that about 40 per cent of women affected by violence do not have the required evidence in order to apply for family law legal aid," she explained.

Andrew Caplan, President of the Law Society which supported the challenge, said that the changes represent "yet another example of the draconian cuts affecting vulnerable clients.

"The over-strict tests required to bring evidence to satisfy the broader statutory meaning of domestic violence are not what Parliament intended."

The regulation changes require domestic abuse victims to provide extensive evidence in order to receive assistance. Examples include a protective injunction, a referral from a health professional or evidence from either a medical professional or social services.

This evidence can be difficult to obtain, especially given the 24 month time limit within which it is required.

Mr Caplan argued: "Victims of domestic violence should not be excluded from accessing legal aid for family law disputes against an abusive ex-partner or relative because of these unrealistic regulations."

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice says that the Government has "made it easier for victims of domestic violence to obtain legal aid, by ensuring a broader range of evidence qualifies. This has contributed to a 19% rise in the number of grants awarded."

Speaking about the changes to the evidence required to apply for legal he said: "We know how challenging it is for victims of domestic violence to take their case to court. This is why we’ve made sure most victims only have to provide evidence of domestic abuse once in the lifetime of their case."