Harsh evidence tests for domestic violence are unlawful, rules Court of Appeal – ROW

Rights of Women and the Law Society has welcomed the Court of Appeal ruling that government changes to legal aid for domestic violence victims are unlawful.

The potentially life saving ruling comes a year after the High Court rejected a legal challenge from charity Rights of Women over the lawfulness of new rules that require victims of domestic violence to provide a prescribed form of evidence in order to apply for family law legal aid.

The rules on evidence, introduced by the government as part of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), have prevented victims of domestic abuse from getting legal aid for family cases, even when it is clear there has been violence, or there is an ongoing risk of violence.

Without legal aid domestic abuse victims are unable to access family law remedies, which are vital in order to help them escape from violent relationships and protect their children.

Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said the Law Society supported the challenge brought by the Public Law Project on behalf of Rights of Women because legal aid is a lifeline for victims of abuse:

“The LASPO legal aid cuts have resulted in radical consequences for access to justice with the worst impact affecting the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of society.  Survivors of domestic violence should not be subjected to the over-strict tests required by the regulations as they now stand.

“The harsh tests exclude victims from accessing legal aid for family law disputes against an abusive ex partner or relative and are not what parliament intended. This ruling means that access to safety and justice will no longer be denied to the very people the Government expressly sought to protect with its amendments to the regulations.”

Emma Scott, Director of Rights of Women, said:

“For nearly three years we know that the strict evidence requirements for legal aid have cut too many women off from the very family law remedies that could keep them and their children safe. Today’s judgement is important recognition of women’s real life experiences of domestic violence and means that more women affected by violence will have access to advice and representation in the family courts.

“The Court of Appeal has accepted our arguments that the fear of a perpetrator does not disappear after 2 years and recognised that forms of violence such as financial abuse are almost impossible for women to evidence. We look forward to working with the Ministry of Justice on amendments to the regulations to ensure that women affected by all forms of domestic violence are able to get legal aid.”