Six out of 10 domestic violence victims are unable to get access to legal aid, a survey by women’s rights charities has revealed.
The report, Evidencing domestic violence: a barrier to family law legal aid, published by Women’s Aid, Welsh Women’s Aid and Rights of Women, says the new evidence requirements for accessing legal aid for family law cases, which came into effect in April 2013, are too onerous for many people to meet.
Two surveys of 377 victims between 1 April and 31 July 2013 showed 61% of the women who had experienced or were experiencing domestic violence took no action in the family courts because they were unable to apply for legal aid. Of the rest, 28% paid a solicitor privately and 16% represented themselves.
Half of the women surveyed did not have the prescribed forms of evidence needed to access family law legal aid, 17% had to pay more than £50 to obtain copies of the required evidence and 38% had to wait longer than two weeks to get copies of the evidence.
Emma Scott, director of Rights of Women, said that by restricting legal aid only to those who can produce narrow forms of evidence, the government is denying women and children access to remedies that can keep them safe.
Polly Neate, chief executive at Women’s Aid, said: ‘The government made a promise that survivors of domestic violence would not lose out under legal aid proposals, but this research demonstrates the new restrictions leave many women unable to access justice.’ She called on the government to allow more forms of evidence, ensure copies of that evidence can be obtained for free and to ensure there are enough family lawyers.