Court rules domestic violence legal aid time limit invalid

Topics: Family and children,Legal aid and access to justice,Courts business

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The Court of Appeal has upheld a challenge to the government’s changes to legal aid for victims of domestic violence.

Last year the High Court rejected a legal challenge from domestic violence charity Rights of Women over the lawfulness of rules that require domestic violence victims to provide a prescribed form of evidence to apply for family law legal aid.

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Some of the forms of evidence are subject to a 24-month time limit, despite the fact that perpetrators may remain a lifelong threat.

However, in The Queen (on the application of Rights of Women) v The Lord Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Justice, the Court of Appeal ruled today that regulation 33 was ‘invalid’ insofar as it ‘requires verifications of domestic violence to be given within a 24-month period before any application for legal aid and does not cater for victims of domestic violence who have suffered from financial abuse’.

Rights of Women director Emma Scott said today’s ‘important’ judgment meant more women affected by violence will have access to advice and representation in the family courts.

The Law Society backed the challenge brought by the Public Law Project on behalf of Rights of Women to the regulation in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO).

Society president Jonathan Smithers said: ‘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. Survivors of domestic violence should not be subjected to the over-strict tests required by the regulations as they now stand.

‘This ruling means that access to safety and justice will no longer be denied to the very people the government expressly sought to protect with its amendments to the regulations.’

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said it was ‘pleased’ that the court ‘confirmed the lord chancellor did have the power to set domestic violence evidence requirements.’

The ministry will ‘now carefully consider the two findings made about the period of time for which evidence applies and concerns about victims of financial abuse’.

The spokesperson added: ‘We are determined to ensure victims of domestic violence can get legal aid whenever they need it.

‘We have made it easier for victims of domestic violence to obtain legal aid, by ensuring a broader range of evidence qualifies. This has contributed to a 19% rise in the number of grants awarded.’

Scott said Rights of Women ‘look forward to working with the MoJ on amendments to the regulations to ensure that women affected by all forms of domestic violence are able to get legal aid’.

Family lawyers’ group Resolution said its members were ‘proud to help Rights of Women provide evidence that illustrates that the current rules are flawed’.

National chair Jo Edwards said: ‘We look forward to working with the government and our partners to make the changes necessary to ensure more victims of domestic abuse have access to family legal aid.'

Readers' comments (9)

  • The spokesperson added: ‘We are determined to ensure victims of domestic violence can get legal aid whenever they need it.

    Hohoho

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  • "The spokesperson added: ....
    ‘We have made it easier for victims of domestic violence to obtain legal aid, by ensuring a broader range of evidence qualifies. This has contributed to a 19% rise in the number of grants awarded.’"

    Did you notice what they did there? Very devious. The 19% rise was following the slight relaxation of evidence requirements. It was not a rise on the pre-LASPO situation as we all know domestic abuse legal aid certificates fell off a cliff with LASPO.

    Wouldn't it be nice if once, just once, the Ministry of Truth could play the ball with a straight bat.

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  • LASPO was a terrible act which has far reaching consequences for the most vulnerable in society and for it to be delivered by a government with liberal demorcrat ministers including Simon Hughes is a legacy which they should ashamed. Access to justice id a human right.

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  • Just another way to keep women down. It will take CENTURIES for equality to prevail.

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  • But how can one describe people as victims of violence without a conviction and how do you get a conviction without evidence?

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  • How can you describe people as perverters of justice without a conviction and how do you get a conviction without evidence?

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  • Alan Joseph Lyle,

    Imagine that a woman was assaulted by her partner in your street tonight. She would be a victim of domestic violence, regardless of whether or not her partner was convicted of the offence. She would not magically only become a victim of domestic violence at the point at which her partner was convicted. If only the number of women who are victims of domestic violence was limited to the number of convictions for domestic violence.

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  • to Ravi Singh- Chumber
    Yes your right I'm afraid.The whole idea of gender equality is a preposterous joke.After all, what woman in her right mind would want to reduce herself to the level of being a man. And I say that as a fully paid up member of the Boy Scouts.

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  • Aside from this, LASPO also removed the right of injured work, people to rely upon regulations built upon European directives in pursuance of a claim.

    With the stated intention to disadvantage claimants so that they wouldn't actually pursue claims which they have a perfect right do.

    And this notwithstanding the fact that the breach, as I understand it, many of these regulations remains a crime.

    The perfidy of this ideological motivated government knows no end

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