Court of Appeal rules restrictions on access to legal aid for domestic violence survivors are unlawful
Published: February 18 2016
In a case brought by the Public Law Project (PLP) on behalf of the charity Rights of Women (RoW), the Court of Appeal has ruled that evidence requirements which have been operating to prevent survivors of domestic abuse from getting legal aid for family cases are unlawful.
The judgement can be found here.
A significant feature of major reforms to the civil legal aid scheme in 2013 was the removal of family cases from the scope of the scheme. Although Parliament provided that survivors of domestic violence should remain eligible for help in such cases, the changes came into force together with regulations that required applicants to provide very specific evidence to prove their eligibility for legal aid.
In practice, this evidence was often difficult to get, particularly where applicants had suffered non-physical forms of abuse. In many cases it was also subject to a 24 month time limit, although evidence showed that perpetrators often remain a threat to survivors long after this.
Considering the evidence submitted by Rights of Women as to circumstances in which the regulations operated as a bar to legal aid, the Court described a “…formidable catalogue of areas of domestic violence not reached by a statute whose purpose is to reach just such cases” . The Court agreed with Rights of Women that there was “no obvious correlation between the passage of such a comparatively short period of time as 24 months and the harm to the victim of domestic violence disappearing or even significantly diminishing” . As a consequence, the Court unanimously found the regulations to be unlawful.
Sarah Clarke, Rights of Women’s solicitor at the Public Law Project said:
“We are very happy that the Court of Appeal has allowed this appeal. Legal aid provides for representation in proceedings enabling domestic abuse survivors to escape from abusive relationships, protect their children, and manage their finances. This judgment will help ensure that they can achieve access to justice.”
Notes to editors
1. The Public Law Project (PLP) is an independent, national legal charity which aims to improve access to justice for those whose access is restricted by poverty, discrimination or other similar barriers. It employs solicitors who act in appropriate cases. If you would like more information from the PLP about this case or other aspects of our work contact Ade Lukes firstname.lastname@example.org, DD: 020 7843 1266.
2. Rights of Women is a registered charity that provides free legal advice to women and engages on a policy level concerning access to justice and violence against women issues. They provide training on legal issues to statutory and third sector professionals, write legal publications designed to assist individual women, and those supporting them, through the law and provide three legal advice lines offering legal advice to women on immigration and asylum issues, sexual violence and criminal law, and family law (including domestic violence, divorce, contact disputes).Their advice lines are staffed by qualified practising women solicitors and barristers. More information about their work can be found at www.rightsofwomen.org.uk
3. Rights of Women were represented by Sarah Clarke of PLP and by Nathalie Lieven QC and Zoe Leventhal of Landmark Chambers.
4. Rights of Women were supported by the Law Society.
5. Legal aid reforms were brought in by the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.
6. The Regulation declared unlawful is Regulation 33 Civil Legal Aid (Procedure) Regulations 2012 as amended by the Civil Legal Aid (Procedure) (Amendment) Regulations 2014.