Court of Appeal rules restrictions to legal aid for domestic violence victims are unlawful

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The case of Rights of Women v The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice [2016] EWCA Civ 91 was heard on the 18th of February in the Court of Appeal. This was a highly anticipated ruling regarding the evidence needed by domestic violence victims in order to access legal aid for family court cases. Three appeal judges agreed that these restrictions were in fact unlawful.

The case was brought by the Public Law Project on behalf of Rights of Women, representing the victims of domestic abuse that have been restricted to accessing legal aid. The campaigning began after cuts were made to the civil legal aid scheme in 2013. Legal aid was drastically cut for private family cases however; the government intended domestic abuse victims to still be able to access the help they needed in order to have access to the court system via legal aid. However, this was supplemented by regulations that meant certain evidence was needed in order to claim legal aid and it is these regulations that have caused so much controversy. Rights of Women found that 40% of domestic abuse suffers did not have the required evidence needed therefore; hindering their ability to escape abusive relationships or having to represent themselves and face their perpetrators in court.

The regulations inserted a two year time limit for the evidence which campaigners claimed effectively excluded victims who have suffered from financial abuse.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson gave a statement explaining the impact of the ruling: “We will now carefully consider the two findings made about the period of time for which evidence applies and concerns about victims of financial abuse. We are determined to ensure victims of domestic violence can get legal aid whenever they need it. We have made it easier for victims of domestic violence to obtain legal aid, by ensuring a broader range of evidence qualifies. This has contributed to a 19% rise in the number of grants awarded.”

To read the full judgement please visit the Family Law Week’s website.

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