A recent survey, published by Rights of Women, Women's Aid and Welsh Women's Aid highlights that victims of domestic violence have not had the support they need from legal aid, contradicting a pledge from the Government that legal aid would be available to those who need it.
The Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) came into effect on 1 April 2013 and removed legal aid for a large number of private family law matters. However, domestic violence victims were still entitled to support through the Civil Legal Aid (Procedure) Regulations Act 2012 if they could provide sufficient evidence that they had experienced some form of domestic violence.
The study, entitled 'Evidencing Domestic Violence: the facts', has found significant flaws with this procedure as many women who have suffered or continue to suffer from domestic violence abuse do not meet the exhaustive list of evidence criteria needed to qualify for legal aid.
The key findings from the study indicated that half of all women who were victims of domestic violence did not have the 'prescribed forms of evidence' to access family law legal aid. More than 60% of victims took no action to their domestic violence problem as a result of not being able to apply for legal aid, 23.7% sought a private solicitor to act on their behalf and 15.8% represented themselves in court.
The results of this study have raised concerns with leading female aid charities that a large number of women may be forced to stay in abusive relationships as a result of not being able to access legal aid or other factors such as the financial burden of a divorce or the fear that they may lose their children. With many family law firms withdrawing provision of legal aid due to legislation changes, it is becoming increasingly difficult for domestic violence victims to find a family solicitor local to them, especially in rural areas or in smaller towns and cities.
Rights of Women, Women's Aid and Welsh Women's Aid are calling for the Government to change the evidence criteria to include police records of incidents and recorded phone calls to domestic violence help lines so that victims have more forms of 'prescribed evidence' to call upon when applying for legal aid. The charities are also wanting the Government to ensure that there are sufficient numbers of family law firms across the country who are able to offer legal aid, so that as many women as possible can have access to the financial support they are entitled to.
At K J Smith Solicitors we are here to help and support you if you have been affected by any issues relating to domestic violence. Our experienced team will listen and advise on the best action to take in order to deliver the best possible outcome. To arrange a free 45-minute consultation please contact us today on 01491 630000 (Henley-on-Thames), 0118 418 1000 (Woodley, Reading) or 020 7070 0330 (Central London).