The government has relaxed criteria to access legal aid in domestic violence cases following instances where victims were ‘left stranded at the door of the Court’. The evidential requirement that abuse must have taken place within the last 24 months meant that by the time some cases were reaching final hearing, the evidence was deemed out of date and domestic violence victims would lose their lawyers as they were no longer eligible for legal aid.
Andrew Caplen, the Law Society president, welcomed these changes but urged further reform:
‘We are pleased that the Government has fixed this unconsidered technicality – one which was causing serious injustice to some victims of abuse. But the over-strict tests required by the regulations still mean some survivors are excluded from accessing legal aid for family law disputes against an abusive ex partner or relative, and we hope the MoJ will continue to work with us to resolve these problems.’
Elspeth Thomson from the family lawyers group Resolution also stressed the need for further change, stating that ‘we still have a long way to go’. Thomson cited problems with gathering the very specific types of evidence needed to access legal aid, as well as knowledge of its availability. She concluded by stating that ‘the system needs to support domestic violence victims rather than stand in their way’.
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