The government has loosened a controversial restriction preventing some victims of domestic abuse from accessing legal aid.
Domestic abuse victims currently have to provide evidence that abuse has taken place within the past 24 months in order to qualify for legal aid. A technical provision in the civil legal aid (procedure) regulations 2012 meant that when cases reached a final hearing, legal aid could be withdrawn if the evidence was considered to be out of date.
The change follows intense lobbying by the Law Society and other practitioner groups. The Society argued that it could not have been parliament’s intention to grant legal aid initially only for it to be withdrawn in the middle of proceedings.
Law Society president Andrew Caplen said it was pleased the government had fixed ‘this unconsidered technicality’.
However, he said the ‘over strict’ tests required by the regulations still meant ‘some survivors are excluded from accessing legal aid for family law disputes against an abusive ex-partner or relative, and we hope the Ministry of Justice will continue to work with us to resolve these problems’.
Concern over the technical rule was first raised by Ben Hoare Bell partner Cris McCurley (pictured), who has worked with women and children who have experienced abuse.
McCurley was ‘absolutely delighted’ by the government’s decision. But she called for the government to remove the 24-month time limit imposed over certain types of evidence in domestic abuse cases to be removed altogether.
She said: ‘The government’s own research is very clear that the domestic violence impact on victims does not dissipate after 24 months. The only reason for putting a 24-month time limit can be to save money, but it does not protect victims.’
A spokesperson for the MoJ said the government was ‘absolutely clear that victims of domestic violence must receive legal aid in order to break free from abusive relationships’.
Having listened to concerns from representative groups, the spokesperson said ‘ministers have agreed to amend the rules so that victims of domestic violence can be confident they will receive the support they need’.