I’ll begin with some depressing facts:
(Thanks to refuge.org.uk for those facts and the references)
It was these stats (amongst others) which resulted in the Governments pledge – amidst the sweeping cuts to legal aid effected by LASPO – to make exceptions for, and therefore protect, victims of DV. A laudable aim, and wonderful in theory. Unfortunately, those on the ground know that in reality it isn’t always so straightforward. Victims have to provide proscribed forms of evidence to be eligible for legal aid, which sadly not every victim has access to.
One year after LASPO, Rights for Women (RfW) undertook research on the impact of the new legislation on victims of DV. The results were concerning to say the least; 43% of victims did not have evidence in the proscribed form and were therefore unable to get legal aid.
In April 2014, as a result of the research by RfW, the regulations were amended to expand the list of proscribed forms of evidence of DV. However, RfW’s new report (here) argues that whilst this is a step in the right direction, it has in fact had little impact. 37% of women (their survey was just women, though I recognise that men will be affected by this as well), they found, still don’t have any of the proscribed forms of evidence of DV. RfW are concerned that the emphasis continues to be disproportionately on evidence from the Courts, Police etc. They say this simply fails to reflect the reality of the situation, which is that women facing this kind of abuse tend to favour “less formal, non-statutory routes”, a fact which will surprise nobody who has worked with victims of DV, who are often ground down, exhausted and vulnerable, having suffered for years. Examples of evidence more commonly available to victims were given; a letter from a DV support organisation confirming the victim is receiving advice and support, evidence from the Police confirming they were called as a result of an incident of domestic violence (as opposed to a conviction or caution).
Another concern identified by RfW was that 23% of those who responded to the survey would have had the proscribed evidence, if it weren’t for the two year time limit. A rather arbitrary line to draw, one might think, given that many victims continue to be at risk for a lifetime.
I am familiar with the arguments for the cuts, but it is clear is that the Government must look urgently at the regulations so that those to whom protection was promised can access that protection.
Horrifyingly, 53% of respondents to the RfW survey took no legal action as a result of not being eligible for legal aid. How many of those victims may end up paying the ultimate price for these funding cuts?