Court ruling on Legal Aid will bring about positive changes for victims of domestic abuse
Rights of Women (ROW) was successful in challenging certain parts of the legal aid regulations that imposed strict rules on victims of domestic abuse to prove that they were victims for the purposes of obtaining legal aid. The regulations were found to be unlawful as the requirements were so difficult to meet by applicants who suffered abuse that was not physical.
Much of the evidence was also subject to a time limit of 24 months, for example legal aid would not be provided unless there was evidence dated within 24 months that the applicant had been a victim. The Court found that, in principle, this was wrong. It stated that there was “no obvious correlation between the passage of such a comparatively short period of time as 24 months and the harm to the victim of domestic violence disappearing or even significantly diminishing”. The Law Society supported the case of ROW and Resolution contributed to preparing the case for ROW.
The Ministry of Justice has made it clear that it will not be seeking to appeal the decision.
Although amendments to the regulations have not been agreed yet, the government is in the process of considering how it will amend them.
Resolution has said that it is understood that any applicant that has been refused legal aid within the last three months on the basis that would fall foul of the Court of Appeal judgment, can appeal, and if necessary, judicially review any decision.
Any new application for legal aid where the 24-month period or financial abuse is relevant should specifically make reference to the Court of Appeal decision.
There are statistics that show that women were simply not coming forward, and many of those that were, could not get legal aid. It is hoped that this decision will assist victims to come forward and seek legal advice and take out protective orders.