Domestic Violence Legal Aid changes welcomed as a ‘victory for women’s rights’

 The leading women’s legal charity Rights of Women welcomes the announcement from the Ministry of Justice today that it intends to reform legal aid rules affecting survivors of domestic violence.

 The announcement is a 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’s proposals include 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 organisations working with domestic abuse victims, solicitors and housing organisations.

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 female 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:

“Rights of Women welcomes the announcement that unfair legal aid rules for survivors of, or those at risk of, domestic violence are finally to be replaced. This is both a victory for women and also for common sense. The purpose of Legal Aid is to ensure everyone in society can equally access safety and justice through the law. The current rules are so restrictive that they fail to assist a large number of victims – the majority of whom are women. Our evidence showed that up to 40% of women could not meet the requirements.

It is important not to forget however that we and others warned of these problems before the new rules were introduced. We are hopeful that these changes signal a renewed commitment from Government to address the broader landscape of domestic violence provision more proactively. It is of urgent importance that the Istanbul Convention is ratified in parliament tomorrow as this will commit the Government to a package of much-needed measures including refuge spaces and prevention work.”

Jenny Beck, Co-Chair of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group said today:

“This is a welcome announcement for everyone who believes in access to justice. The Government had committed to protect individuals and families at risk of domestic abuse and yet huge numbers of victims remain vulnerable under the current rules which are needlessly restrictive, confusing and bureaucratic. This sensible decision will enable efficient and targeted legal advice and representation to be given to those most in need. Costs, time, and most importantly, lives will be saved.  A sensible dialogue to understand the real picture at the coal face has allowed some joined up thinking here which will save both the tax payer and society in general.”

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