Relaxing time limits for reporting domestic violence may have contributed to the steep increase in legal aid applications from victims this year, latest government figures suggest.

Quarterly figures published by the Ministry of Justice and Legal Aid Agency today show that applications for civil representation in private family law, supported by evidence of domestic abuse, rose by 26% between July and September compared with the same period last year. The number of legal aid certificates granted rose by 51%.

Between 1 April 2013, when most family cases were taken out of the scope of legal aid, and 30 September this year, the agency received almost 28,000 applications to fund representation. More than 19,000 certificates were granted.

Earlier this year the government announced it was more than doubling the original time limit for evidence, a month after the Court of Appeal upheld a challenge to barriers on victims of domestic violence obtaining legal aid. 

The figures also show another new record of applications for exceptional case funding; 479, the highest quarterly figure since the scheme began. Of the 455 determined by the agency by 30 November, 46% were granted, 35% were refused, and 17% were rejected for administrative reasons.

Nearly a quarter of applications were made directly by the client, the highest quarterly proportion since the scheme began, and more than double the proportion this time last year. The report suggests this is due to the application form being simplified as a result of judicial review of the scheme.

The number of civil representation certificates granted in the last quarter was up 8% on last year. The report notes that 90% of all civil representation applications received over the past 12 months were initially granted a certificate compared with 83% prior to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act.

Between October 2015 and September 2016, £856m was spent on criminal legal aid.

Crime lower (police station, magistrates’ and prison law work) spending fell 2% compared with the same period last year. However, the suspended 8.75% fee cut for litigators from April contributed to a 3% expenditure increase on the first quarter this year.

The volume of crime higher cases (work in the Crown and higher courts) fell 11% in the latest quarter compared with last year. Crime higher expenditure is 16% lower ‘due to the reduction in volumes and partly because that quarter of 2015 saw a particularly high-cost mix of cases completed’, the report states.