Rights of Women Charity loses Challenge to Civil Legal Aid Legislation for Domestic Violence Victims

by Muna Saleem on February 18, 2015

Whilst many regulatory and legal semantics have little impact on the population, a recent legal case may be of interest to the everyday civilian. On the 22 nd January, The Public Law Project, on behalf of Rights for Women, a legal advocacy group, attempted to remove specific pieces of legislation that were brought in to regulate the provision of legal aid to domestic abuse victims.

These regulations stipulated that certain types of evidence must be provided by victims of domestic violence seeking legal aid, and this evidence could not be more than 24 months old at the time of their attempt to get legal aid. A case was brought against Secretary for Justice Chris Grayling, who introduced the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) in December 201, questioning the legality of the legislation. The crux of the case was that Rights for Women proclaimed Grayling went beyond his powers as Secretary of State in adding the new regulations (known as Regulation 33), which they believed should have been immediately removed.

The reason why Rights for Women were so deeply passionate about this issue is the very real effect the new regulations could have on domestic abuse victims. With 75% of women saying they found it difficult to find a Legal Aid solicitor, these new restrictions are likely to mean that even more domestic abuse victims will not get the Legal Aid funding they need to successfully pursue their cases in the courts. The withdrawal in many cases of legal aid is a sharp blow to campaigner against domestic violence and charities representing victims.

These changes have been called a barrier to “access to justice for women” by the Director of Rights for Women, Emma Scott and it is this idea that has driven the case. With a potential £300 million being removed from the Legal Aid system, the ways and frequency, in which domestic abuse victims will have access to much needed legal help are rapidly shifting.

President of the Law Society, Andrew Caplen, has launched a campaign to try to push law makers to downscale these cuts and re-visit the reasons for, and effects of, the planned cuts. Statting that the Law Society will do all in its power to ensure victims of abuse of all kinds, continue to have the right access to legal representation, he is putting domestic abuse high on the agenda. Calling the reductions and regulations ” another example of the draconian cuts affecting vulnerable clients”, Caplen has reaffirmed the Law Society’s position on legal aid cuts, viewing them as a product of political and economical thought, not of legal or moral obligation.

Whilst it is difficult to assess, statistically, the damage these rulings will have on domestic abuse victims, Caplen has stated quite categorically, that ” women are being forced to face their perpetrators in Court without legal representation“. This will almost certainly create a system whereby many cases of serious emotional and physical abuse will simply not reach a court, and if they do, it is more likely than ever that the victims will not be properly represented and therefore perpetrators not properly prosecuted.

Muna Saleem

Muna Saleem

Associate Solicitor at Crisp & Co
Muna Saleem is an associate solicitor with Family Law firm Crisp & Co. She is an accredited member of the Law Society’s Family Law Panel, practicing in all areas of private family law from divorce and financial remedy applications to cohabitee disputes and children matters such as Child Arrangement Orders and international relocation applications.
Muna Saleem
Muna Saleem
Muna Saleem

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