Legal Aid cuts hurt victims of domestic violence
1 November 2013 by Marketing Team
A report this week from Rights of Women, the organisation supporting victims of domestic violence, demonstrates that the legal aid cuts, brought in by the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, in April this year, have had a serious effect on the very people that the Government hoped to protect. Despite specific exceptions from the cuts for victims of domestic violence, the restrictions imposed by the Ministry of Justice require that legal aid is only available to somebody who can prove in a particular way, with a particular letter, that they were victims. The recent report demonstrates that in fact some 60% of women who had suffered domestic violence were unable to get legal aid because of these restrictions.
This report confirms our experience how difficult it is to get the necessary evidence, and how little information is available to people, many of whom believe that legal aid has been abolished completely. It certainly has not – and legal aid lawyers like us working hard to demonstrate that people can still get legal aid.
This week also saw a conference of young legal aid lawyers where the key note speaker was Baroness Hale, the first woman member of the new Supreme Court, who described the cuts as: “the steady and precipitous erosion of the legal aid and access to justice schemes is one of the great disappointments of my declining years.”
She commented that when the Legal Aid and Advice Act was passed in 1949, 80% of the population was eligible for legal aid, but that figure had dropped to just 30% by 2008, following cuts by successive Governments. The latest cuts have removed large areas of social welfare law from Legal Aid.
Commenting on the allegation by the Government that it is only lawyers who are fighting to keep legal aid, Baroness Hale said: “access to justice does not necessary mean access to lawyers but in a common law world, access to lawyers is the best way of securing access to justice.”