Legal aid is a lifeline for victims of domestic violence, enabling them to escape from abusive relationships, protect their children, and manage their finances. Without access to legal advice and representation, a woman trying to leave a violent relationship has two options - to represent herself in court against her perpetrator, or to continue living under abuse.
Our research, Evidencing domestic violence, demonstrates that over 50% of women experiencing violence take no action in relation to their family law problem as a result of not being able to access legal aid, leaving them unable to escape from violent relationships or rebuild their and their children’s lives after separation.
Recognising the importance of access to justice for women and children experiencing abuse, the government promised that legal aid for family law cases would not be lost to those affected by domestic violence. However, the new legal aid regulations introduced in April 2013 are crafted in such a way as to prevent the majority of domestic violence victims and survivors from accessing legal aid.
The key problem with the regulations is that they require applicants for family law legal aid to provide evidence of domestic violence. The list of acceptable forms of evidence is dangerously restrictive, focusing on evidence from statutory agencies or of remedies which we know do not reflect the reality of the lives of women experiencing violence. It also places an arbitrary 2 year time limit on evidence which simply does not reflect what we know about ongoing risks to women and children. Our research shows that 40% of women who are experiencing domestic violence do not have the evidence required to be granted legal aid.
For this reason we brought a legal challenge against the regulations. Although unsuccessful in the High Court, our appeal will be heard by the Court of Appeal in January 2016.
Rights of Women leads a campaign against the legal aid cuts which so dangerously restrict women’s access to advice and representation. You can read more about the campaign here and find out how you can support our work.