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Court finds legal aid rules in domestic violence cases lawful

R (on the application of Rights of Women) v The Secretary of State for Justice [2015] EWHC 35 (Admin)                                           

In our September Update we confirmed that permission had been granted for a judicial review, challenging the lawfulness of legal aid changes affecting victims of domestic violence in England and Wales. 

The case was heard in full on 22nd January 2015.  The claimants, Rights of Women,  argued that changes introduced by Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) are preventing victims of domestic abuse getting legal aid for family law cases.  The changes mean that victims are required to provide a prescribed form of evidence in order to obtain family law legal aid. Many women affected by violence do not have the required forms of evidence. Some of the forms of evidence are subject to a 24 month time limit, although perpetrators may remain a life-long threat to their victims. 

However, the High Court upheld the legality of the evidence requirements.  It considered that the Ministry of Justice had widened the definition of domestic violence and increased the categories of evidence of domestic violence accepted as qualifying for legal aid. The Court held that the evidence requirements were neither ultra vires nor unreasonable.

Rights of Women and the Law Society of England and Wales, who supported the case, expressed their disappointment with the judgment.  The Law Society President Andrew Caplan said:

“The change, introduced by the government, is yet another example of the draconian cuts affecting vulnerable clients…Victims of domestic violence should not be excluded from accessing legal aid for family law disputes against an abusive ex-partner or relative because of these unrealistic regulations.”

Click here to read an article from The Guardian.  

Family Law, Legal Aid