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Legal aid restrictions removed for victims of domestic violence

The government’s plan to support victims of domestic violence appears to be materialising. In recently announced proposals the Ministry of Justice has announced plans from January 2018 to remove current barriers for those victims to secure legal aid funding in family cases.

At present the Legal Aid Agency has strict criteria for those victims to qualify for legal support in and out of court proceedings in family matters. Not only does a victim have to satisfy a financial eligibility test but since 2013 they have also been forced to prove they are a victim and this has sometimes come at a significant cost to them emotionally.  In some cases victims have been able to prove they were a victim but that proof was outside the time frame of occurring within the last 5 years.  This has left many victims suffering further abuse when facing their perpetrator in the family courts.

The range of documents accepted as evidence of abuse will be widened to include statements from domestic violence support organisations and housing support officers. At present the Legal Aid Agency only accepts documents from social services, law enforcement and medical professionals. The changes will also mean that the Legal Aid Agency will accept evidence of abuse against previous partners to support evidence that an applicant is ‘at risk’ of domestic violence.

Under the new guidance it is hoped that these strict conditions will be relaxed further to prevent any more vulnerable individuals feeling further persecuted whilst trying to protect themselves, their children or their family assets.

The proposed new legislation states that evidence of abuse can be obtained from a wider variety of sources and has removed the time limit in respect of such evidence.

Law Society president Joe Egan welcomed the fact that it will now be easier for victims to provide evidence and qualify for Legal Aid. He stated: “The five-year time limit causes difficulties for victims who were abused more than five years ago but have no recent documents to prove this.

The forms of evidence required have also been very restrictive. Broadening the types of evidence that can be accepted to include statements from domestic violence support organisations and housing support officers will remove many of the difficulties faced by victims.”

Elspeth Thomson, chair of the Legal Aid Committee at the family law organisation Resolution, said: “We’ve been calling for changes to the evidence gateway since 2013 and welcome this news…these changes, made in consultation with Resolution and others, are a step in the right direction, allowing the justice system to better support at risk and vulnerable people at perhaps the most difficult time of their lives – when the family unit is breaking down.”

If you have been the victim of domestic abuse, contact Atherton Godfrey’s specialist Family Law department on 01302 320621 or email at family@athertongodfrey.co.uk for confidential and supportive advice.

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