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Sell-by date evidence for victims of domestic abuse scrapped

Law Society lobbying means victims will not be left stranded at the court's door

8 July 2015

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The government is to loosen restrictions which prevent victims of domestic abuse from accessing legal aid in family cases.

Domestic abuse victims currently have to provide evidence that abuse had taken place within the last 24 months to qualify for legal aid.

The rule meant that when some victims reached a final hearing, the plug on their case funding could be pulled because the evidence would be considered 'out of date'.

The change - found in the Civil and Criminal Legal Aid (Amendment) Regulations 2015 - will come into force on the 17 July and follows intense lobbying by the Law Society and other practitioner groups. It ammendment means that victims are no longer at risk of being left without the support they need to get justice and to help break free from abusive relationships.

Commenting on the announcement, the Law Society's president, Andrew Caplen, said: 'Legal aid is a lifeline for victims of abuse and access to justice is essential in these cases. The LASPO legal aid cuts have resulted in radical consequences for access to justice with the worst impact affecting the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of society.'

While Caplen said he was pleased the government had fixed the 'unconsidered technicality', more needed to be done to protect vulnerable people from serious injustice.

'The over-strict tests required by the regulations still mean some survivors are excluded from accessing legal aid for family law disputes against an abusive ex-partner or relative, and we hope the MoJ will continue to work with us to resolve these problems,' he added.

The move by the government comes days after the charity Citizens Advice found that just one in five adults believe it is easy to tell what counts as domestic abuse.

Elspeth Thomson, who leads Resolution’s work on legal aid, commented: 'Many domestic violence victims struggle to gather the evidence they need to get legal support and many more don’t even know that legal aid is still available. People’s health and lives are potentially in danger because of the difficulties they face in getting the legal support they need to get themselves out of an abusive relationship. While this is a welcome step, the government needs to do more.

'We want to see further changes to the criteria for granting legal aid in cases of domestic violence, including some flexibility around the two year ‘cut off’ period which means that some victims cannot currently produce the tight prescribed evidence. The system needs to support domestic violence victims rather than stand in their way.'

An MoJ spokesperson told SJ: 'This government is absolutely clear that victims of domestic violence must receive legal aid in order to break free from abusive relationships. 

'Organisations including Rights of Women, Women’s Aid, and Resolution pressed for loopholes in the legal aid system to be closed so that funding is not withdrawn prematurely in certain circumstances.

'Having listened carefully to their arguments, ministers have agreed to amend the rules so that victims of domestic violence can be confident they will receive the support they need.'

 

John van der Luit-Drummond is deputy editor for Solicitors Journal
john.vanderluit@solicitorsjournal.co.uk | @JvdLD

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Legal Aid Vulnerable Clients