On the 1st April 2013 sweeping cuts to family legal aid were introduced. Assistance with divorce, finances and children matters are no longer available to those without the means to pay for such advice. There is however a ‘Domestic Violence Gateway’ to allow for legal aid in such cases where the person has been, or is, a victim of domestic violence. This is to ensure that a victim of domestic violence does not have to face their abusers alone when they need to make an application for divorce, financial relief or applications in respect of the children.
The problem is however that the government has set such a high evidential burden for these victims that it is estimated only a small proportion of them will be able to satisfy it.
The evidential requirements include a police caution or conviction within the last 2 years. It is already well known that only a small proportion of domestic violence is reported to the police. The proportion of these reports that then proceed to a caution or conviction is miniscule. It is understood that CPS policy is actually not to caution for domestic violence therefore victims will have to proceed to pressing charges and appearing in court in order to have the required ‘evidence’ of their abuse.
Another requirement option is a letter from a GP confirming they have treated the victim in last 2 years with injuries consistent with domestic violence. Again ignoring the fact few victims of domestic violence will seek medical treatment for injuries there is a requirement for this letter to be obtained prior to representation. The burden and cost of obtaining this evidence falls on the victim, which again places further obstacles in their path to advice and representation.
Welsh Women’s Aid member groups surveyed their service users in December 2011 to ascertain what forms of evidence domestic violence victims might have to corroborate their experience of violence. They found that over 46% of them would not have the required evidence. It is also important to remember that this survey was of women who had already sought some help for domestic violence. There is therefore going to be an even higher number of women who have not reported this even to confidential domestic violence support groups who are even more unlikely to have the required ‘evidence’ of their abuse.
These changes to our system of funding legal costs is therefore going to lead to large numbers of victims being exposed to their abusers in court. Also it is highly likely that many victims will be put off from attempting to seek assistance and remain in abusive relationships putting both themselves and their children at risk. Is this not too high a price to pay for the cuts?
If you need help with any family situation, whether you have this evidence of domestic violence or not, then please contact our family solicitors here at Hanne & Co by calling 020 7228 0017 or by emailing email@example.com