Rights of Women Conference 2015 and the launch of Child arrangements and domestic violence: a handbook for women

 

A huge thank you to everyone who attended our conference on Child arrangements and domestic violence: protecting women and children in the Family Court on 8th October 2015.

We started the day by launching our new publication, Child arrangements and domestic violence: a handbook for women, which is an essential and practical resource for women without a lawyer who are involved in child arrangements proceedings. Professionals who support women affected by domestic violence will also find this handbook a useful tool to help women through child arrangements cases.  Order your copy here

Our keynote speaker, Caroline Dinenage MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Women, Equalities and Family Justice congratulated Rights of Women on our 40th anniversary. She thanked all the organisations represented in the audience for the work that they do, assured us that she was “in listening mode” and committed to meeting with us to discuss the issues raised at the conference.

Our patron, Denise Robertson MBE, spoke passionately about the number of women who still contact her for advice on domestic violence and child contact and the fact that “in the family courts, women are routinely left baffled”.  She stressed how important it is for organisations like Rights of Women to provide information and advice, saying “the informed woman is a strong woman”.

Guardian columnist Annalisa Barbieri, also a patron of Rights of Women, chaired a discussion on women’s experiences of family justice. A survivor of domestic violence told us about her “sickening” experience of the Family Court.  She gave examples of important and relevant evidence of the father’s violent behaviour and risk to the family being ignored by the judge.  She, like so many other women, felt demonised and judged before the case had even started: “When I walked into court I immediately felt like I was on the back foot.  I was another woman being unreasonable and causing trouble.”  Clare Laxton of Women’s Aid told us that child arrangements is the number one issue being raised by their members at the moment.  She spoke about the huge lack of understanding of coercive control amongst professionals in the family justice system. She talked about how perpetrators use child arrangement proceedings as a way to continue to exert control over mothers and the myth that the Family Court is biased towards mothers.  Legal aid solicitor and trained IDVA, Sophia Raja, highlighted the lack of risk assessments being carried out in the Family Court, partly due to lack of funding for experts. She also spoke about women without lawyers, particularly migrant women, being taken advantage of because they do not know their rights or the law.

The day ended with a plenary session, reflecting on the workshops held throughout the day.   The workshops focused on mediation, legal aid, women litigants in person and the courts’ approach to child arrangements where there is domestic violence.  The number of challenges and failures raised by delegates was overwhelming.  However, the workshops provided constructive ideas and possible solutions to ensure the safety of women and children in the family justice system.  Rights of Women intends to take these forward in our ongoing policy and campaigning work.

Our Director, Emma Scott, closed the conference by quoting one of the workshop participants: “there is a need for a clear pathway” for survivors of domestic violence involved in child arrangements proceedings.

Some good news on legal aid and domestic violence!

Following our continuing campaigning with organisations including Women’s Aid, Welsh Women’s Aid and the Law Society, the Government has relaxed one aspect of the domestic violence evidence criteria for family law legal aid, which until now has meant that legal aid which had been granted came to an end when the evidence became more than two years old.

Currently, in order to be granted legal aid for a family law case, the applicant must provide evidence of domestic violence and that evidence must be no more than two years old. Until 17 July if , during the course of the court proceedings, that evidence becomes ‘out of date’ (becomes more than two years old) the Legal Aid Agency would terminate the legal aid certificate. The impact of this rule is that those affected by domestic violence suddenly found themselves without legal advice and representation half way through their case, being forced to represent themselves in court against their perpetrators.

The Government has now amended this rule. Whilst you must still provide evidence that you experienced domestic violence and that evidence must be no more than two years old in order to be granted legal aid, you will no longer lose your legal aid if the evidence you have provided falls ‘out of date’ during the course of the proceedings.

It is important to note that that the new rule will only apply to legal aid applications made after 17 July 2015.

Join Rights of Women’s Feminist Walks

Back in the 70s Rights of Women led a series of walking tours through the feminist history of London.  Join us to revisit these historical sites!

Visit the home of the Pankhurst family, the publication house for The Vindication of the Rights of Women, Marie Stopes’ birth control clinic and other important sights from feminist history.

The walk is approximately 4 miles and will take approximately 3 hours to complete.  This event open to all.

Start: Exit 2, Euston Station (National Rail, London Overground, Northern Line, Victoria Line)

End: Chancery Lane Station (Central Line)

Suggested donation: £10 per person on the day (please note that we cannot accept payment by card)

To book: http://rowfeministwalk.eventbrite.co.uk

Guidance for applying for family law legal aid in domestic violence cases

The guidance from the Ministry of Justice on evidencing domestic violence for family law legal aid has moved to the gov.uk website here

There are very useful template letters you can use to ask the courts, police or medical professionals for your evidence here.

There are also useful template letters for professionals to use in providing the evidence which meets the Legal Aid Agency regulations here.

If you have any questions about how to apply for legal aid in family cases or how to get your evidence please call our advice line.

 

 

 

 

LAPG’s call to amend the domestic violence evidence test

LAPG have called for amendments to the domestic violence evidence test for family law legal aid in its manifesto for legal aid: “over 50% of victims who urgently need help are excluded from obtaining advice because either the definition or the evidence required are insurmountable hurdles for them”.

A copy of the manifesto can be found on the LAPG website.

Justice Select Committee: Failure to ensure victims of domestic violence can access legal aid means the Government is not achieving its declared objectives

On 12th March, the Justice Select Committee published recommendations following its inquiry into the impact of changes to civil legal aid under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.  The select committee considered whether victims of domestic violence are able to satisfy the eligibility and evidential requirements for a successful legal aid application:

“We note with concern the evidence from the Rights of Women survey suggesting 39% of women who were victims of domestic violence had none of the forms of evidence required to qualify for legal aid. Any failure to ensure that victims of domestic violence can access legal aid means the Government is not achieving its declared objectives…

We welcome the Ministry of Justice’s commitment to keeping the types of evidence required to qualify for the domestic violence gateway under review and recommend the introduction of an additional ‘catch-all’ clause giving the Legal Aid Agency discretion to grant legal aid to a victim of domestic violence who does not fit within the current criteria. We also wish to see regular publication of figures on grants of legal aid made on the grounds of domestic violence.”

“We recommend Regulation 33 of the Civil Legal Aid (Procedure) Regulations 2012 be amended to give the Legal Aid Agency discretion to allow evidence of domestic violence from more than 24 months prior to the date of the application in cases where the person who has suffered the violence would be materially disadvantaged by having to face the perpetrator of the violence in court. We make this recommendation in recognition of the potential artificiality of the 24 month time limit given the ongoing nature of familial relations that can be the subject of court proceedings and the lasting impact domestic abuse can have on victims.”

A full copy of the report is available here

Court deals blow to rights of domestic violence survivors’ to access justice

Despite clear evidence that the domestic violence evidence criteria for family law legal aid are restricting access to family law legal aid, the Divisional Court has dismissed our legal challenge of the legal aid regulations, finding that the Secretary of State for Justice acted within his powers .

Emma Scott, Director of Rights of Women, said “On behalf of the women who continue to be denied access to justice by the legal aid regulations we are devastated by the outcome of our legal challenge. 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% of women affected by violence do not have the required evidence in order to apply for family law legal aid. We are applying for permission to appeal this decision and remain committed to campaigning on this issue in order to hold the government to account on their promise to continue to make legal aid available to victims of domestic violence.”

We would like to thank Sarah Clarke and the Public Law Project and Nathalie Lieven QC and Zoe Leventhall of Landmark Chambers for their expert legal advice and representation and their commitment to this case. We would also like to thank the Law Society, without whose support we would not have been able to bring this case to court. We would also like to thank all those who supported the case in providing evidence of the devastating impact the legal aid regulations are having and to those who have supported us during this campaign in so many other ways.

Read our press release on today’s judgement here

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

 

 

Looking for a new challenge in 2015?

 

We are currently recruiting qualified women* solicitors or barristers with experience of family, criminal and immigration and asylum law to deliver our vital legal services for women.

We have vacancies for a Legal Officer or Senior Legal Officer as well as for Sessional Legal Officers and volunteer legal advisers to deliver our services and projects to increase women’s access to the law and their legal rights.

Find out more about these opportunities to work with us here

*Occupational Requirement (Equality Act 2010, Schedule 9 Part I) applies

 

Read our latest research on the impact of the legal cuts

 

Today the High Court will hear our legal challenge of the lawfulness of Government changes to legal aid for domestic violence victims and we publish the latest in our research on the impact of the legal aid cuts on women.

Our report, published today with Women’s Aid Federation England and Welsh Women’s Aid, shows that despite changes to the list of evidence introduced in April 2014, nearly 40% of women affected by violence do not have the required forms of evidence and are faced with a stark choice: pay a solicitor privately often causing them to get into debt; represent themselves and face their perpetrator in court; or do nothing and continue to be at risk of violence.

Nearly 60% of women responding to the survey said that they took no legal action as a direct result of not being eligible for legal aid. The rules deny access to safety and justice to the very women the Government sought to protect from the removal of family law from the scope of legal aid.

Read our report Evidencing domestic violence: reviewing the amended regulations

Help close the protection gap for women seeking asylum

 

As a signatory to Asylum Aid’s Charter for the Rights of Women Seeking Asylum we want to ask for your help in closing the protection gap for women seeking asylum.

Take action in the new campaign which starts today!

In the past few months new initiatives have come into play for women facing rape and violence at home and abroad. But women seeking asylum are falling through a protection gap.

William Hague and Angelina Jolie signed off an international agreement on how a woman raped during a civil war should be supported. But if that woman comes to the UK to seek protection she isn’t guaranteed the same support. There is a glaring hypocrisy in how we treat women and girls who seek protection in the UK; they continue to be missed out of government policies on violence against women.

We believe that no woman seeking asylum should have to tell her story:

  • in front of her children
  • to a male interviewer or interpreter if she is not comfortable with this
  • to someone who doesn’t understand how trauma affects memory
  • without being given counselling
  • without information about her rights as a woman in the asylum system

We believe that five particular measures in Hague and Jolies’s international agreement are also vitally important for women seeking asylum in the UK.

Let’s tell Theresa May, the Home Secretary, to use her powers to put these measures in place in the asylum system now:

  •  Provide childcare during screening and asylum interview
  •      Guarantee that women can have a female interviewer and interpreter if they choose
  •      Training for interviewers and interpreters on sexual violence, trauma and memory
  •      Counselling and support for trauma for women who have experienced gender-based harm
  •      Information about the asylum process, rights and entitlements specific to women seeking asylum

Take action now to close the Protection Gap for women seeking asylum!

Visit www.asylumaid.org.uk/protectiongap to find out how you can help.

 

 
 
 

Contact us at:


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