The Court of Appeal has today ruled that the harsh evidence tests faced by victims of domestic violence when applying for legal aid are unlawful. The legal challenge was brought to the Court of Appeal by the Public Law Project on behalf of charity Rights of Women, and this ruling comes a year after the High Court initially rejected their case.
The new evidence tests were introduced under the controversial reforms to civil legal aid implemented in April 2013 – the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), which included huge cuts to the legal aid budget as well as a dramatic reduction in the scope of legal aid. The evidence tests require victims of domestic violence to provide a prescribed form of evidence in order to apply for family law legal aid.
As Emma Scott, Director of Rights of Women has 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.”
Rights of Women has conducted research on the impact of legal aid since the introduction of the reforms, which has revealed that despite amendments to the regulations in April 2014, about 40 per cent of women are being denied access to legal advice and representation to engage in family law proceedings. In December 2015, Rights of Women published research including survey findings which revealed that 37 per cent of women who responded to the survey and who had experienced or were experiencing domestic violence, did not have the prescribed forms of evidence to access family law legal aid.
In the above research, Rights of Women also found that 53 per cent of respondents took no action in relation to their family law problem as a result of not being able to apply for legal aid, while 29 per cent paid a solicitor privately and 28 per cent represented themselves at court. The Ministry of Justice has said that they will now “carefully consider” the ruling, especially with regard to the two findings made about the period of time for which evidence applies and concerns about victims of financial abuse.
To see the press release by Rights of Women, please follow this link: http://rightsofwomen.org.uk/harsh-evidence-tests-for-domestic-violence-are-unlawful-rules-court-of-appeal/