On the 28th January 2016 the Court of Appeal will decide on whether to overturn a High Court ruling on the lawfulness of government changes to legal aid for victims of domestic violence.
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 introduced various rules requiring domestic violence victims to provide very specific forms of evidence in order to apply for legal aid. The legal profession and domestic violence organisations and charities expressed concern at the outset that victims of domestic violence would be unable to satisfy the rules of evidence and would therefore be unable to access the family law remedies required to enable them to protect themselves and their children from abuse.
New data from Rights of Women shows that 40 per cent of victims still do not have the necessary forms of evidence to access legal aid. If these victims do not have the resources to pay privately for legal advice and representation they are left with the shocking choice of either representing themselves through the Court process and facing their perpetrator in Court or doing nothing at all and exposing themselves and their children to the risk of further abuse.
The government’s current rules on evidence mean that some of the most vulnerable members of our society are without access to the help that they desperately require. We await the Court of Appeals’ decision.