Court rules against legal aid restrictions for domestic violence victims

Government changes to legal aid in domestic violence cases are flawed and have left many victims unprotected under the law, the Court of Appeal ruled today.

The changes to how people's right to receive legal aid is accessed were introduced in 2013 and mean that domestic violence victims have to supply a prescribed form of evidence and in many cases the evidence is subject to a 24-month time limit.

Campaigners claim the changes have prevented victims from accessing justice, even when it is clear there has been violence.

Three appeal judges today found that a requirement for evidence of abuse to be given with 24 months is invalid. 

They also found that the changes fail to cater for victims of financial abuse whereby partners finances are controlled by an abuser.

The ruling comes as new research carried out by the charity Rights of Women reveals that 40% of victims still do not have the required forms of evidence needed to access legal aid.

Emma Scott, director of Rights of Women said today's judgement is an important recognition of women's experiences of domestic violence and means that more women affected by it will have access to legal advice and representation.

"For nearly three years we've known that the strict evidence requirements for legal aid have cut too many women off from the family law remedies that could keep them and their children safe," Scott said.

"The Court of Appeal has accepted our arguments that the fear of a perpetrator does not disappear after two years."

The Ministry of Justice said the government is determined to ensure victims of domestic violence can get legal aid whenever they need it.

A spokesperson said: "We are pleased the court confirmed the Lord Chancellor did have the power to set domestic violence evidence requirements. We will now carefully consider the two findings made about the period of time for which evidence applies and concerns about victims of financial abuse.

"We have made it easier for victims of domestic violence to obtain legal aid, by ensuring a broader range of evidence qualifies. This has contributed to a 19% rise in the number of grants awarded."