THE UPCOMING RULE CHANGES FOR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE EVIDENCE WHEN APPLYING FOR LEGAL AID.
There has not been much good news regarding legal aid in recent years since the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. Our clients have found that their eligibility for legal aid has been restricted more and more which is preventing their access to justice, particularly when they do not have the means to pay the legal costs themselves.
One way to obtain legal aid in private family law matters (such as disputes over contact with your children or divorce) is if you have suffered domestic violence at the hands of your spouse or partner. However, there is currently a threshold in place which means that you can only rely on suffering domestic violence if you can prove that it occurred in the last five years. This is regardless of the devastating and lasting effect that domestic violence and abuse can have on a victim.
In a positive move for legal aid and access to justice, The Ministry of Justice confirmed that the current five-year time limit will be removed completely regarding private family law matters.
The Law Society has welcomed the government’s decision and their spokesperson said: ‘Legal aid is a lifeline for those who have suffered abuse. It is often the only way someone can bring their case before the courts.
‘Relaxing time and evidence restrictions so more victims of domestic violence can get legal aid for court hearings will be a welcome relief for many people. Today’s positive decision is the end result of work we and other organisations have been doing with the MoJ for many months.’
‘These changes will help domestic violence victims who have previously been deprived of valuable legal advice, support and representation to access essential family law remedies.’
The change is widely supported by solicitors who work in the field who have said that the five-year time limit placed too much restriction on legal aid accessibility; particularly to the poorest and most vulnerable in society who cannot afford to pay their own legal fees.
The types of evidence that can be accepted will also be ‘significantly broadened’ relaxing the restricting rules that are currently in place. Statements from organisations working with domestic abuse victims, letters from solicitors and housing officers will also be accepted.
This change is important as victims often fear going to the police, their GP or others authority figures due to a fear of not being believed or their abuser becoming aware of their cry for help. This often means that a victim’s application for legal aid will be rejected, simply because they were too afraid to contact the correct authorities. Solicitors and charities are often approached first by victims due to the anonymity they provide and so the changes should make a victim’s access to legal aid much easier.
The full extent of the changes are yet to be revealed but Jordans are eagerly awaiting these results to allow us greater scope to provide you with legal assistance when you need it most. If you require any assistance with a family law matter then please call 01924 387110 to speak to one of our specialist family law solicitors today at one of our offices in Wakefield, Dewsbury or Horsforth.