Legal Aid and Domestic Violence in the Family Court
Legal Aid is not generally available for applications made in the Family Court dealing with matters such as which parent a child should live with and what time they should spend with their other parent. There is an exception, in very limited situations, for those who have suffered domestic violence. The strict limitations in respect of availability of Legal Aid only came into effect in April 2013, due to changes in the law.
To claim the domestic violence exemption, to qualify for Legal Aid, it is necessary to provide a letter from the Police, your GP/other specified medical professional, the courts, a multi-agency risk assessment conference (MARAC), social services, a refuge manager or a domestic violence support service. The written evidence of domestic violence could not be dated more than two years before the date of the Legal Aid application.
Recently, there has been a lot of opposition to the rule stating that the evidence of domestic violence may not be more than two years prior to the application for Legal Aid. Rights of Women, who provide legal advice to women, particularly focussing on those affected by violence, have challenged the Legal Aid rules in the Court of Appeal . They have stated that the rules are denying many women access to legal aid who have suffered domestic violence as it occurred more than two years ago. In addition, the rules are denying many women access to legal advice as they cannot afford to pay privately for this. Rights for Women sought a ruling that the two year domestic violence rule for Legal Aid eligibility be declared unlawful, in order to force the Government to change the law in relation to this.
On 18th February 2016 Rights of Women were finally successful in their application to the Court of Appeal and it was ruled that the two year requirement for evidence of domestic violence to secure Legal Aid was unlawful. This means the Ministry of Justice must alter the eligibility requirements for Legal Aid.
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.”
This judgement is going to have a major impact upon family law and the number of women potentially eligibility for Legal Aid, but the full effect is yet to be seen. The Government will have to draft the new legislation and it is uncertain at the present time what the new regulations will entail. The Family Team at Emery Johnson Astills will monitor the progress of the legislation and will provide further information once it is available. .
Emery Johnson Astills Family Team have a vast experience of family law matters. If you or anyone that you know requires legal advice in relation to family matters please do not hesitate to contact Emery Johnson Astills on 0116 255 4855 or 01509 610312 and ask to speak with a member of the Family Team