Archive for February, 2021

Finding hope that the law can protect women: my experience as a volunteer at Rights of Women

By Isabella Taylor

I think the law can sometimes feel so full of long words and wigs that it seems very far away from a system that was built to protect everyday people. As a first-year law student, I must confess that the intimidating vastness of it all can feel overwhelming at times. However, when I started volunteering with Rights of Women, I began to see how in the right hands, law is an enormous protection. Volunteering with Rights of Women has demonstrated to me that the value of educating women, myself included, how to utilise the law cannot be overstated.

I think the law can sometimes feel so full of long words and wigs that it seems very far away from a system that was built to protect everyday people.

I have had the pleasure of volunteering with Rights of Women (RoW) in a role that was once Office Volunteer, and has since become Home Volunteer following March 2020. I have helped them in supporting the FLOWS Forum (Finding Legal Options for Women Survivors), as well as doing some work for their Immigration team. One of the most exciting things about my role is the access it has given me to talk and hear from so many different people working in the Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) sector. Working on FLOWS has enabled me to attend events on legal aid and coercive control that have given me so much insight into the incredible work all the organisations, academics and lawyers in this field do.

There is something so hopeful about being surrounded by women who are fighting to show that the law can and should protect women.

It has been incredibly valuable for me to see that this work exists, and all that is being done to make it achievable for as many women as possible to seek justice. There is a recognition at RoW that every part of the process for women experiencing violence, from initially seeking help to eventually getting justice, is just as important. Through my volunteer work reaching out to VAWG organisations to encourage them to get involved with FLOWS, I have witnessed this first-hand. The opportunity to be exposed to this sort of work at the age of 21 has been incredibly rewarding, there is something so hopeful about being surrounded by women who are fighting to show that the law can and should protect women. The policy work that RoW does means they not only enable more women to access the law through their advice lines, but also ensures that the law that is being accessed has the necessary protections in place to be effective. I have been made to feel so welcome and truly included ever since I started volunteering for Rights of Women, and have been given the opportunity to learn invaluable lessons that I will carry beyond my role here into my everyday life, thanks to the access I have been given and the openness and authenticity of the women working at RoW.

Victory for survivors of domestic abuse as legal aid win comes into force

From today, victims and survivors of domestic abuse who were previously denied access to legal aid will no longer be asked to sell their homes to access safety from abuse and justice.

Due to the unrealistic rules relating to legal aid eligibility, women who were unable to afford legal representation were forced to face their abusers alone, in court.

The legislation, which comes into effect today (28 January 2021), removes the cap on mortgage allowance when assessing someone’s financial eligibility. This means that ‘imaginary capital’ will now be assessed properly: as debt.

The legislation comes into force following a High Court ruling, in December last year, which closed a legal loophole in the rules about ‘trapped capital’ that prevented a survivor of domestic abuse, a single mother who had just £28 in her bank at the time, access to legal aid.

Women’s rights charity, Rights of Women, frequently receive calls to their ‘family law advice line’ from victims and survivors of domestic abuse who have been denied access to legal aid despite having no money to afford representation in court.

One of Rights of Women’s callers, Maria*, a single mother who fled her abusive husband and was living on universal credit, was denied legal aid and told to sell her home to pay for legal advice to keep herself and her children safe. Unable to sell her home, which would have left herself and her children homeless, Maria had no choice but to represent herself in court. 

Speaking of her ordeal, Maria* said:

“It was very stressful. I was caring for my children and trying to go here and there and managing all these papers. I don’t know what my rights are. I can only tell the judge what I know but I don’t know when to say ‘yes’ and when to say ‘no’. When the case started, my partner got an order and I didn’t know how he did that and I didn’t have a lawyer to find out. The court removed the order, but I don’t think it would have started like that if I had a lawyer. When both people know what to do it is fair but when he knew what he was doing and I didn’t, it felt like they could squeeze me and I just had to say ‘yes’. You feel you can’t speak up.”

Olive Craig, Senior Legal Officer at Rights of Women, said:

“We frequently speak to women experiencing domestic abuse, some who have had to resort to food banks to feed their children, who have been denied access to legal aid by a system deliberately designed to make it harder for applicants to be granted legal aid, a system which ignores the lived realities of many women experiencing domestic abuse. You should not have to sell your home, and make yourself and your children homeless, to be eligible to access justice and safety. This vital legislation will help many more women access the legal support and protections they desperately need to live free from violence and abuse.”

*Case study and quote is shared with the consent of the survivor, and names have been altered to prevent identification.

For more information see our updated legal guidance, available here.

 
 
 
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