Rights of Women have won the right to challenge the lawfulness of the current legal aid provisions (or lack thereof) for domestic violence victims.

In a hearing which took place today in the High Court, the charity was granted the right to challenge current legal aid policy for victims of domestic violence in family cases. It’s no surprise, given that the legal sector, and the judiciary in particular, have voiced strong concerns over the provisions set out in LASPO 2013.

The full hearing is believed to be set for next year.

Family Law Week have produced a piece on the update with added information, which we’ve reproduced in part for you, below:
Permission has been granted to Rights of Women to challenge the lawfulness of Government changes to legal aid. The charity says that the changes are preventing victims of domestic abuse from getting legal aid for family cases, even when it is clear there has been violence, or there is an ongoing risk of violence. Represented by the Public Law Project and supported by the Law Society, Rights of Women argue that this is not what parliament intended and that the policy is in breach of Articles 6 and 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998.

Legal aid changes introduced by the Government in April 2013 required victims of domestic violence to provide a prescribed form of evidence in order to obtain family law legal aid.  Many women affected by violence do not have the required forms of evidence.  Some of the forms of evidence are subject to a 24 month time limit although perpetrators may remain a lifelong threat to their victims.

Rights of Women say that the statistics are stark; two women are killed each week by a current or former partner and 500 recent victims of domestic violence commit suicide every year.

A report published by Rights of Women and others in October 2013, Evidencing domestic violence: a barrier to family law legal aid, indicated that survivors of domestic violence have been unable to access legal aid in the family courts.

The report stated:

  • Half of the respondents (women who have experienced or are experiencing domestic violence) do not have the prescribed forms of evidence needed to access family law legal aid
  • 61% took no action in the family courts because of not being able to apply for legal aid
  • 17% of respondents had to pay more than £50 to obtain copies of the required evidence
  • 38% of respondents had to wait longer than two weeks to get copies of the evidence
  • 23.7% paid a solicitor privately and 15.8% represented themselves at court.

Emma Scott, Director of Rights of Women, said after the judgment was given:

“Today’s decision in the High Court is an important step in holding the Government to account on their promise that family law legal aid would remain available for victims of domestic violence. We argue that the practical application of regulation 33, the domestic violence evidence criteria, denies eligibility for legal aid to very many women affected by violence. It simply too restrictive and does not reflect the reality of the routes they take to safety. It does not reflect the Government’s own definition of domestic violence or Government policy in other areas.

“Most importantly we know from the women affected that it denies them access to the legal remedies which could enable them to leave violent and abusive relationships and find safety. In our research, the majority of women who did not have the required evidence to apply for legal aid told us that they took no legal action as a result. It is on behalf of those women that we bring this case in order to hold the Government to account on their promise.”

Law Society President Andrew Caplan said:

“The over-strict tests required to bring evidence to satisfy the broader statutory meaning of domestic violence are not what parliament intended. Legal aid is often the only way that those who suffer at the hands of abusers can bring their case before the Courts. Victims of domestic violence should not be excluded from accessing legal aid for family law disputes against an abusive ex partner or relative because of these unrealistic regulations.”