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Better access to justice for domestic abuse survivors

Domestic abuse survivors who jointly own the family home can no longer be automatically denied legal aid because they have capital.

Thanks to a High Court ruling, the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) will now have to look at individual cases when deciding who should be eligible for legal aid.

Don Bird, senior partner and head of family law at Atherton Godfrey, commented: “Although legal aid is available for domestic abuse, many cases are caught up in the strict interpretation of the rules.

“This decision will improve access to justice for far more survivors of domestic abuse. It will remove the added trauma of having to face their abuser in court without the benefit of legal support. It will also give a sense of hope for other women in the same position.”

The far-reaching consequences of the change are summed up by a survivor, who commented: “The last time I had to face him in court was horrendous. I had to speak for myself whilst he was there with a barrister. I was so nervous and scared that I was physically sick in the court room. My mum has already taken out so many loans to help me through this so hopefully she won’t have to do that anymore.

“We still have a long way to go with our legal challenges, but this ruling gives me some peace of mind. If it means that other women won’t have to face their abusers in court, that will be amazing.”

Sadly, many do not even realise they are a victim of domestic abuse. Sam Billingham suffered years of abuse and is now raising awareness of coercive control through her More Than A Bruise campaign. Sam says: “Domestic abuse doesn’t even start physically, yet people only identify themselves as a victim when they are hit. The abuse has been happening long before that point; some victims aren’t even physically abused.

“Victims are broken down psychologically, they are controlled completely, moulded and manipulated without abusers laying a finger on their victim”.

In a further development, Nicola Jacobs will become the first commissioner for domestic abuse for England and Wales  when the long-awaited Domestic Abuse Bill becomes law early next year. Nicola, who will have significant powers, commented: “Those subjected to domestic abuse have long awaited the changes outlined in the Domestic Abuse Bill. Now is the time to focus our efforts and to maintain our highest ambition to ensure safety for survivors of domestic abuse.”

The bill will bring in significant reforms, including a statutory duty on council’s in England to provide support for victims in refuges and recognising children as victims for the first time.

Anyone being subjected to emotional, physical or financial abuse, should talk to a solicitor straight away. Acting urgently will help to safeguard the victim, their family and their home.

Atherton Godfrey has an experienced family law team that can be contacted in complete confidence on 01302 320621.

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