Statistics published by the Ministry of Justice on 17.12.20 have shown a steep increase in the number of protective order applications between July and September. The Law Society is calling for non-means tested legal aid to be made available to victims of domestic abuse who are seeking the protection of the courts.

Between July-September 2020 9,944 applications were made for remedy orders and 82% of these applications were for Non-Molestation Orders. This is a rise of 27% on last year.

Lockdown and the resulting isolation and strain put on relationships has seen a large increase on domestic abuse calls to the police and domestic abuse support services. The Covid-19 restrictions have proved to be a particularly dangerous time for victims of domestic abuse and it has proven more difficult for victims to escape abusive relationships.

Throughout lockdown the number of victims of abuse killed by their current or former partner or spouse has increased dramatically, with he Femicide Census  stating the spring domestic homicide rates were three time higher than usual.

There has been a huge spike in the need for protective orders needed by victims of domestic abuse, as has been seen in the firm. The police do not always put bail conditions in place, if an alleged perpetrator is released under investigation. This is a crucial time where the protection of the court will be required. The court can provide protection under a Non-Molestation order, which will protect the victim from harassment, intimidation and abuse. It can also prevent the abuser from contacting the victim and even exclude them from certain areas, such as where the victim lives or from the children’s schools.

There is no court fee to make an application for a protection order and legal aid is available, however it is currently both means and merits tested. If a victim in on certain benefits they will be “passported”, which means they do not need to complete details of their income, however their capital will still be assessed. If a victim works, is self-employed or is not entitled to benefits it can be more tricky, as they will need to provide evidence of their income as well as details of any assets they own. The victim is required to provide 3 months of bank statements. This can be problematic, if the victim was subjected to financial abuse, as they may not have a bank account in their own name or may have only had access to a joint account. On top of this it can take several weeks for an assessment of eligibility for benefits to be completed following the victim escaping the abusive relationship.

Ultimately if a victim of abuse earns above the legal aid threshold, or owns assets above a certain amount they could be required to pay a contribution to the legal aid agency, pay privately for legal representation, or make the application as a litigant in person.

It could be argued that alleged perpetrators are at an unfair disadvantage, as there is no legal aid available for them to contest an application for a non-molestation order, therefore they will have to either pay their legal fees privately or represent themselves. It could be argued that they therefore should also have access to non-means tested legal aid if alleged victims can receive this.

Victims of domestic abuse are some of the most vulnerable people in our society and it is vital that their safety is protected. If legal aid for domestic abuse was available then the process for obtaining legal aid would be much more straightforward and make it swifter and easier for them to make an application to the court for protection at a highly stressful time in their life when they are trying to take the first steps to a new life free from abuse.

If you are a victim of domestic abuse and feel you need to discuss your options, including eligibility for legal aid, please contact a member of our experienced domestic abuse team on 01522 561020 or contact the domestic abuse line 07739748675 and remember, you’re not alone.

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