Domestic Violence Legal Aid changes finally confirmed by Government

We welcome the announcement from the Ministry of Justice today confirming legal aid rules affecting survivors of domestic violence will be amended as of January 2018.

This is the result of Rights of Women bringing a successful Judicial Review on appeal against the Government in 2016 that led to the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) reviewing the current rules.

The MOJ has confirmed it will be scrapping a time limit on evidence that meant survivors had to show they had suffered abuse within the past five years to be granted legal aid for advice and representation in disputed family court hearings.

Additionally the MOJ will widen the types of evidence that can be supplied to prove abuse has occurred to include statements from domestic violence support organisations and and housing support officers.

In its legal case, Rights of Women provided evidence that the rules (introduced under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of offenders Act 2013) meant that 40% of women survivors could not meet the new legal aid domestic violence evidence requirements. Without legal aid for representation, survivors were forced to face their abusers in court themselves.

Estelle du Boulay, Director of Rights of Women said today:

“The changes announced today will make a significant difference to women experiencing or at risk of domestic abuse to access legal aid in private family law cases.

The previous system was so clearly unjust, leaving many genuine survivors unable to access the legal aid they were entitled to, because the evidence requirements were narrow, onerous and unrealistic.

We fought the Government through the courts to bring in these reforms. We are particularly grateful to the many women survivors who provided testimony that enabled us to prove our case. Their voices have finally been listened to today. This is a landmark win in relation to access to justice and we hope this sends a signal to others that it is possible to successfully challenge unfair laws that are not fit for purpose.”

Cris McCurley, a family law lawyer who is a partner at Ben Hoare Bell LLP, and sat on the independent advisory group panel to the MOJ throughout the review process said today:

“In spite of the UN CEDAW committee ruling that the Government had to urgently review and ensure victims of violence would get legal aid for private family law proceedings in October 2013, these changes have only come about as a result of the hard work, dedication and courage of Rights of Women in pursuing their case against the MOJ on DV eligibility for legal aid all the way to the court of appeal.”

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