One-third of victims of domestic violence cannot provide evidence for legal aid
17th Mar 2015
A report focusing on one of the impacts of the 2012 Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) found that over a third of domestic violence victims cannot provide the evidence which is required to acquire legal aid.
The act meant that legal aid for family law cases would not be given unless evidence of domestic violence over the past two years could be provided. Such evidence can include a police caution conviction, protective injunction, letter from a health professional, residence in a refuge and other categories of information
A parliamentary watchdog found that women often find it difficult to provide evidence that they have been abused and/or attacked, citing a survey conducted by the Rights of Women organisation that stated that ‘39% of women who were victims of domestic violence had none of the forms of evidence required to qualify for legal aid’.
Victims who do not have the support of a lawyer, either for financial reasons or because they have not been able to provide evidence of abuse, often find it difficult to leave an abusive relationship, as well as potentially having to confront their abusers in court if they do not have representation, the justice select committee warned.
An additional ‘catch-all’ clause has been recommended by the committee, along with the relaxation of the two year time limit, in order to give the Legal Aid Agency discretion to provide legal aid to victims of domestic violence who are unable to provide evidence.
The legality of the evidence requirements for victims of domestic violence was defended when, after the act was challenged by the campaign group Rights of Women, it was pointed out that the definition of domestic violence had been widened and the number of categories of evidence had been increased since the ‘gateway’ was introduced.
The justice select committee report found that, although savings had been made by the Ministry of Justice from the act, it had failed to provide legal aid to those in need as the exceptional cases funding scheme does not work. It has also failed to prove that it has delivered better overall value for money for the taxpayer, as the knock-on costs of legal aid changes to other departments have not been included.