Domestic violence challenge on legal aid fails

Topics: Legal aid and access to justice,Judicial

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  • Mrs Justice Lang

The High Court has rejected a challenge to the legality of government changes to legal aid for victims of domestic violence.

The challenge, brought by the Public Law Project on behalf of Rights of Women, and supported by the Law Society, centred around rules introduced in April 2013 requiring victims of domestic violence to provide a prescribed form of evidence in order to apply for family law legal aid.


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

In the judgment today, Mrs Justice Lang (pictured) said she considered the lord chancellor’s efforts ‘to ensure that the domestic violence exception was strictly confined to its intended scope and not exploited as a route to obtaining legal aid’ were consistent with the statutory purpose of reducing the scope of legal aid.

Despite the ‘justifiable criticisms’ of regulation 33 - which specifies the type of supporting evidence of domestic violence which must be provided in support of an application for legal aid - Lang J did not consider the lord chancellor’s chosen method of establishing eligibility was an exercise of discretion that went so far as to thwart or frustrate the purpose of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act.

‘It was a legitimate means of giving effect to the act’s intention to take family law proceedings outside the scope of legal aid, whilst preserving legal aid for the exceptional category of victims of domestic violence in need of protection in family law proceedings,’ she said.

‘Whilst the evidence in this case indicates that it may not be operating effectively in practice, that is a matter for the [lord chancellor], and ultimately parliament, to address.’

Mrs Justice Lang rejected the claim that the lord chancellor exceeded his powers under LASPO 2012 when making regulation 33. Lord Justice Fulford agreed.

Law Society president Andrew Caplen expressed his disappointment at the ruling. ‘This change, introduced by the government, is yet another example of the draconian cuts affecting vulnerable clients,’ he said. ‘The over-strict tests required to bring evidence to satisfy the broader statutory meaning of domestic violence are not what parliament intended.

‘Without legal aid women are being forced to face their perpetrators in court without legal representation. 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.

‘The Law Society is very concerned that many victims of domestic abuse will continue to be unable to obtain legal aid to help them break free from abusive relationships. We will continue to lobby parliament to make changes to ensure the victims of abuse can get the help they need.’

Emma Scott, director of Rights of Women, said: ‘We are devastated by the outcome of our legal challenge. This decision means that women who remain at risk of violence will continue to be denied access to vital legal advice and representation in family cases.

‘Our most recent research shows that about 40% of women affected by violence do not have the required evidence in order to apply for family law legal aid.

‘We are applying for permission to appeal this decision and remain committed to campaigning on this issue in order to hold the government to account on their promise to continue to make legal aid available to victims of domestic violence.’

Readers' comments (5)

  • Rights of Women???? What about the 40% of men who are on the receiving end of domestic violence?
    How better it would be if the campaign dwelt on DV and took the gender stuff out of it?

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  • Every time our local women's refuge goes to the press to highlight the violence perpetrated against women I ring the newspaper and point out how many men I have dealt with who have been the victims of domestic violence. I also see this with gay couples. To sum up the victims of domestic violence are of either gender.

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  • The gender point aside (and in my view, this is sweeping aside a far larger societal issue) to actually discuss this particular judgement, I truly fail to understand the rationale here.

    Were the claimants just unfortunate enough to come up against a judge who can't see this in any light but the 'blue', or am I really misunderstanding how blindingly obviously open and shut this case should have been?

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  • So, victims/survivors end up not only abused by the partner, but abused by them again in partnership with a government which has no conception of the situation faced by these (usually) women. As if that weren’t enough, they are now before being stabbed in the back by the courts which are supposed to protect them.

    No wonder this government – at least the Tory component – want to ditch the Human Rights Act. No claimant in whatever case will have anything resembling an effective remedy if these malign, antediluvian clowns get their way.

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  • Lack of legal aid has increased the problem of abuse victims being further abused by the courts so ensuring the mothers (usually) and children are abused, and if they complain they are silenced by the courts. The government are failing to protect children and are having them thrown into dangerous situations, taken from mothers and traumatised for life.
    Family Courts are a place of terror where Cafcass manipulate and Judges hand out sweeping statements and orders of hell, ruining and damaging other peoples lives.
    For the above comment on Rights of Women, its an organisation who help women, like organisations that help men, Rights of Fathers, and for children, Rights of Children...not that the courts care about anyones rights.

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