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Public ignorance of domestic abuse highlighted as Gove promises reform

The government can review the restrictions placed on legal aid for domestic abuse cases, says national charity

6 July 2015

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Just one in five adults believe it is easy to tell what counts as domestic abuse, according to new research.

In an attempt to assist family and friends of victims of abuse to get the support they need, Citizens Advice conducted a survey into 2,000 British adults, which also revealed a third were not aware domestic abuse can happen between former partners.

Domestic abuse is most commonly considered to be physical or verbal; psychological and financial abuses, which can continue long after a relationship has ended, was found to be harder to recognise and, therefore, dangerously difficult to defend.

Financial and psychological abuse is harder for a victim to prove and make attempts at gaining legal support difficult. An analysis of almost 200 cases of financial abuse brought to the charity between January and June 2014 revealed that nine in ten victims of this type of abuse were women.

However, only 39 per cent of people consider financial abuse as domestic abuse, compared to 86 per cent that considered psychological abuse as domestic abuse.

In addition, just two fifths of respondents were aware that making a partner account for all their spending signified domestic abuse. Just 13 per cent, however, believe that domestic abuse can only take place between people cohabitating, not between those casually dating.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced last month that in the year up to April a record number of people, 107,000, were prosecuted for domestic abuse and other violence against women and girls offences.

Reforming justice

The justice secretary, Michael Gove, recently spoke about reforming the criminal justice system to ensure victims of domestic abuse were not made to suffer again by waiting years for a trial.

In response to the survey, Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said it was encouraging that the Lord Chancellor wanted to do more to tackle domestic abuse.

'There is an opportunity for the government to review the restrictions placed on legal aid for domestic abuse cases. As it stands it is a struggle for many victims to get the professional help they need to legally protect their children and separate from an abusive partner.'

She continued: 'The suffering of domestic abuse victims is going undetected. Many people do not realise abuse can occur after a relationship has ended and be financial or psychological, as well as physical. Without the knowledge and understanding of the extent of abuse it is difficult for family and friends to make sure people get the help they need.

'New measures from the government to make coercive control illegal will ensure those found guilty of these crimes are punished. For this to truly help victims the public and authorities need support to identify abuse.'

In March, the Justice Select Committee concluded that more than one third of domestic violence victims were unable to provide the necessary evidence required to obtain legal aid, following the introduction of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) 2012.

The Act withdrew legal aid for family law cases unless victims were able to provide evidence of domestic violence in the previous two years. Evidence can range from a conviction, police caution, protective injunction, letter from a health professional, or proof of residence in a refuge.

The Rights of Women organisation found that '39 per cent of women who were victims of domestic violence had none of the forms of evidence required to qualify for legal aid'.

Esther Nimmo is an editorial assistant at Solicitors Journal @EstherNimmo

Categorised in:

Legal Aid Divorce