Legal Aid and Domestic Violence – Recent Changes
25 April 2016 by James Bird
Legal Aid and Domestic Violence – Recent changes in increasing the availability of legal aid for victims of domestic abuse.
From today (25th April 2016) there have been amendments made to the Civil Legal Aid (Procedure) Regulations 2012 for victims of domestic abuse. The rules have been relaxed to help victims of domestic abuse obtain legal aid in respect of two areas.
What are the changes?
The first amendment, which has been introduced by the Civil Legal Aid (Procedure) (Amendment) Regulations 2016, focuses on the evidence which can be submitted in support of domestic abuse. Previously that evidence had to be submitted in respect of an incident which had occurred within the 2 years (24 months) prior to the Legal Aid application being made. However, after a ruling passed in the Court of Appeal (R (Rights of Women) v The Secretary of State for Justice and the Lord Chancellor  EWCA Civ 91.), it was held that this time restriction was invalid. This time period has now been extended to 5 years (60 months), giving a much larger time frame for which incidents can be used to support an application.
The second change made to the existing legislation is to allow for those who have suffered from financial abuse to apply for legal aid. Prior to this amendment, the relevant legislation did not have any provision to allow for financial abuse documents to be submitted as evidence in support of an application for Legal Aid. The Justice Minister, Shailesh Vara, has stated that this is an area in which further information is required but the interim legislation has been put in place quickly to “make sure that victims of domestic violence can receive the support they need as soon as possible, and to give certainty to those considering applications for legal aid”
Further changes to the Legal Aid legislation have been introduced under the Civil Legal Aid (Procedure) (Amendment) Regulations 2016 in respect of the definition of “protective injunction” to include female genital mutilation protection orders and violent offender orders but these are not due to come into force until 16th May.
A full copy of Civil Legal Aid (Procedure) (Amendment) Regulations 2016 which brings into force these changes can be found here. Further guidance on these amendments is expected to be published in due course.