Immigration Bill receives royal assent

The Immigration Bill has received royal assent and is now officially the Immigration Act 2016.  Measures will be implemented over the coming months.

The Immigration Act 2016 includes provisions relating to:

  • criminal sanctions for illegal workers and employers
  • blocking access to services for unlawful migrants
  • ‘deport first, appeal later’
  • asylum support
  • detention of pregnant women
  • guidance on vulnerability
  • duty to children

To learn more about the provisions of the new Act see our information page here

New interim regulations for family law legal aid

In response to the judgment in our judicial review the Ministry of Justice has committed to undertaking a review of the regulations for family law legal aid and the impact of the domestic violence evidence. We are working closely with the Ministry of Justice to inform this review. Read Legal Aid Minister, Shailesh Vara’s statement of 21 April here.

In the meantime the Government has introduced interim regulations to deal with the two areas of concern highlighted by Lord Justice Longmore in his judgment of 18 February. The interim regulations can be found here.

Time limit on evidence of domestic violence

The interim regulations set a new, extended time limit on the forms of evidence of domestic violence from two years to five years. Most of the forms of evidence of domestic violence set out in the regulations will be considered by the LAA so long as the form of evidence is no more than five years old.

Evidence of financial abuse

From 25 April 2016 the Legal Aid Agency has discretion to consider forms of evidence of financial abuse not currently set out in the list of evidence. The guidance issued to LAA caseworkers can be found here (from paragraph 2.75). There is an evidence checklist which includes forms of evidence including bank statements, communications with the perpetrator (texts or emails), a letter from a domestic violence support service or a narrative statement from the survivor. In order to demonstrate financial abuse you should submit as much evidence as you can.

We will continue to update on further developments.

If you have any questions about your eligibility for family law legal aid, call our advice line.

If you have any evidence or experiences of the domestic violence evidence requirements which would inform the Ministry of Justice’s review please contact Emma or Mandip on 020 7251 6575.

Remembering Denise

 

At Rights of Women we were hugely saddened to hear about the death of our Patron, Denise Robertson, last week.

Denise became our Patron in 2010 as part of our 35th anniversary celebrations but before that she had a long association with Rights of Women, regularly signposting women to our legal advice services and helping us launch our publication, From A to Z: a woman’s guide to the law in 2007.

Her advice was a comfort to many, many thousands of women through her work on television and her website. Through that work she was aware of the inequalities that women experienced in their lives and felt passionately about wanting to change that. She felt the pain of the women who sought her help very keenly. At our 40th anniversary conference in October 2016 she said,

“In my 40 years as an agony aunt I have seen huge progress in the lives of women. We should be wrapped in clover. But we are not. In the family courts women are routinely left baffled. I have shed tears over some of the letters I’ve had.”

Denise had enormous compassion and tenacity. She would not stop until she had an answer to a woman’s problem. Despite her very busy life, she was also fiercely committed to Rights of Women and supported us in so many ways.

“You are not an organisation, you are a lifeline in a difficult and uncertain world. That is why I support Rights of Women.”

The thoughts of all our Trustees, staff and volunteers are with Denise’s family, friends and colleagues at this very sad time.

Our appeal: what does it mean in practice?

 

We are still waiting for the order in our appeal to be finalised by the Court of Appeal but in the meantime we can confirm what the decision means in practice for women applying for family law legal aid.

The two year time limit on evidence

The list of domestic violence evidence set out in the legal aid regulations is no longer subject to a 24 month time limit. Any of the forms of evidence on the current list should be accepted by the Legal Aid Agency without any time limit as to when it was obtained or when it arose.

Evidence of financial abuse

The Ministry of Justice must add a form or forms of evidence to the list of domestic violence evidence which will allow victim/survivors of financial abuse to apply for family law legal aid. We are working with them to look at what forms of evidence are realistically available for financial abuse and will update you as soon as we have more information.

In the meantime victim/survivors of financial abuse applying for family law legal aid should submit any evidence they are able to obtain to show they have experienced financial abuse and ask the Legal Aid Agency to accept it. If they refuse, their decision can be challenged and you should seek legal advice.

 

We will continue to update on further developments.

If you have any questions about your eligibility for family law legal aid, call our advice line.

 

Evidence tests for domestic violence are unlawful, says Court of Appeal

Our legal challenge of the domestic violence evidence requirements for family law legal aid has been successful. After an appeal hearing in the Court of Appeal on 28 January the two year time limit for evidence has been ruled unlawful and the Government required to amend the legal aid regulations to ensure that women experiencing financial abuse are able to access family law legal aid.

In his judgment handed down in the Court of Appeal this morning Lord Justice Longmore said “Legal aid is one of the hallmarks of a civilised society.”

“I would conclude that … regulation 33 does frustrate the purposes of LASPO in so far as it imposes a requirement that the verification of the domestic violence has to be dates within a period of 24 months before the application for legal aid and, indeed, insofar as it makes no provision for victims of financial abuse.”

Our Director Emma Scott says “For nearly three years we know that the strict evidence requirements for legal aid have cut too many women off from the very family law remedies that could keep them and their children safe. Today’s important judgment means that more women affected by violence will have access to advice and representation in the family courts.”

“The Court of Appeal has accepted our arguments that the fear of a perpetrator does not disappear after 2 years and recognised that forms of violence such as financial abuse are almost impossible for women to evidence. We look forward to working with the Ministry of Justice on amendments to the regulations to ensure that women affected by all forms of domestic violence are able to get legal aid.”

We would like to thank everyone who has supported us in so many ways during this case. Our heartfelt thanks go to our legal team, Sarah Clarke at Public Law Project and Natalie Lieven QC and Zoe Leventhal from Landmark Chambers and to all those who gave evidence in support of case. Our biggest thanks however go to the women who told their stories of the impact the domestic violence evidence requirements. Those stories have made a real difference to other women’s lives.

Read our press release here

Read more about our campaign here

Read the judgment here

40 per cent of women still unable to access family law legal aid

Today we publish further research which shows that still, nearly 3 years after the introduction of the new rules on legal aid, nearly 40% of women affected by domestic violence are unable to access family law legal aid because they do not have the required evidence to prove it.

On Thursday 28 January 2016 our appeal against the decision in our judicial review will be heard in the Court of Appeal. Our case challenges the legal aid regulations which set out the strict list of evidence criteria which is preventing women from receiving vital legal advice and representation in family law proceedings which can protect themselves and their children from further violence.

Emma Scott, Director of Rights of Women, said ‘The government acknowledges that domestic violence is ‘often hidden away behind closed doors, with the victim suffering in silence.’ More than three years on from the devastating cuts to legal aid and despite amendments to the rules, we know that those victims behind those doors do not have the required pieces of paper to prove they have experienced domestic violence.

Our research has consistently shown that nearly half of women affected by domestic violence do not have the required forms of evidence to apply for family law legal aid and that more than half of those women tell us that they take no legal action as a result. This leaves them at risk of further violence and even death. We continue this legal action on behalf of those women in order to hold the government to account on their promise to make family law legal aid available to victims of domestic violence.’

Read our research report here 

Read our press release about Thursday’s hearing here

Read more about our campaign and how you can get involved here

Welcome our new Patron, Pips Taylor

Pips photo cropped 2We are delighted to announce that television and radio presenter, Pips Taylor, has joined us as our new Patron. We first met Pips in 2012 when she was making the BBCThree documentary, ‘I Never Said Yes’ about rape and the criminal justice system.

Pips says “In that film I spoke to women affected by rape and found out just how frightening and traumatic they found the criminal justice system. I worked with one of Rights of Women’s Legal Officers who was able to explain the court process and help me to understand what this might involve for these women. So I know just how incredibly important the legal advice and support that Rights of Women give is.”

That same year Pips helped us launch our publication in partnership with The Havens Your rights, your body, your life. Sexual violence and the law: a young people’s guide at City Hall and has kept in touch ever since.

We look forward to working closely with Pips on some exciting new projects in 2016. Welcome to the team, Pips!

Find out more about Pips and our other Patrons here.

 

Rights of Women is looking for a new Director

After 12 years with Rights of Women and 8 years leading the organisation, our Director, Emma Scott, will be leaving her post in June 2016 and we have begun our search for her successor.

Emma says “Having spent the past year reflecting on Rights of Women’s first 40 years, I am incredibly proud of the work we have done collectively as an organisation and with our partners to ensure women’s access to the law and their legal remedies and to address violence against women. However, the time has come for me to move on to new adventures and to hand over the reigns of this amazing organisation to someone else.”

Chair of our Board of Trustees, Annie Hedge, says “The Board and staff team have spent a great deal of time recently thinking about the challenges ahead for women’s access to justice and how as an organisation we need to address them. We are looking for a new Director who shares our commitment to women’s equality and to providing specialist legal advice and support services for women by women and, importantly, who has the drive and determination to take us forward into our next 40 years.”

Find more information about the role and the recruitment process here.

Coercive control offence

The Government announced on Saturday that the new criminal offence of coercive control will take effect from 29th December 2015. This means that it will be a criminal offence for a person to continuously or repeatedly behave in a way which controls a person they are in an intimate relationship with, or a family member or ex-partner that they live with. An offence will have been committed only if the behaviour has had a serious effect on the victim and if the abuser ought to have known that their behaviour would have a serious effect on the victim. If found guilty, the abuser could be sentenced to up to 5 years in prison.

The Government has already released statutory guidance to help professionals identify and appropriately address cases of coercive control.

We will be producing a new legal guide on the offence of coercive control, which will be available on our website in the new year.

Ascent partners working together to deliver big social returns

As members of the London Violence against Women and Girls Consortium we have been working together our Ascent project partners to provide advice and counselling services to women and girls affected by violence in all 33 London Boroughs.  An evaluation report funded by Trust for London and recently published by Solace Women’s Aid demonstrates the value of the work being undertaken by the partnership.

The report reveals that:

  • 24,000 women and girls have been supported since April 2013
  • For every £1 spent Ascent Advice and Counselling created approximately £6 of social value
  • Volunteers supporting the project feel more fulfilled and have increased career prospects
  • Rights of Women’s training to professionals has increased their ability to give legal support to service users at a time when access to affordable legal advice has become severely limited

The report also highlights the importance of BME specialist services and how the partnership has enabled small BME organisations to preserve their services.

You can read the report here (full report) or here (executive summary)

Find out more about Rights of Women’s work as part of the Ascent project here

 
 
 

Contact us at:


Rights of Women,
52-54 Featherstone Street,
London, EC1Y 8RT.
Administration: 020 7251 6575
Email: info@row.org.uk