Thousands of domestic abuse victims and tenants facing eviction will be able to access free legal advice and representation under changes announced by the government yesterday – however, the additional support will not kick in immediately.

The Ministry of Justice said domestic abuse victims will be able to obtain legal advice through new protection orders and notices. Police will be able to issue a notice requiring the perpetrator to leave the victim’s home and courts will be able to issue orders imposing longer-term protections. Doctors will be allowed to submit letters of evidence for legal aid applications following a phone or video consultation.

An extra £10m will be pumped into housing legal aid to enable tenants to receive free early legal advice before appearing in court as well as on the day. Tenants with repossession notices will be able to receive early legal advice on debt and welfare benefit matters.

Justice minister Lord Bellamy KC said: ‘Legal advice should always be available to those who need it, especially victims of domestic abuse who often rely on lawyers to ensure they are protected from abusers. By making it easier for victims to access legal aid, more people will be better supported through court proceedings and can start the process of moving on safely with their lives.’

However, the domestic abuse protection notices and orders will be implemented following a ‘future pilot’. A spokesperson for the ministry told the Gazette that there was no date yet for when the reforms for domestic abuse victims will be implemented. The additional housing support will come into force next August.

With the number of civil legal aid providers continuing to shrink, practitioners are likely to question who will be around next year to provide the advice and representation. The Legal Aid Agency quietly revealed earlier this month that it will embark on a major review of civil legal aid, which the Legal Aid Practitioners Group warned could be too little, too late to prevent the sector shrinking further.

Further changes announced by the ministry yesterday include extending legal aid for special guardians in private court proceedings determining parental control, standardising the means and merit testing requirements for birth parents in placement and adoption proceedings. Legal aid will also be extended to domestic abuse victims applying for indefinite leave to remain.


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