In the past five years, thousands of women affected by domestic violence and child abuse in the UK have been forced to represent themselves in family courts. In 2012, budget cuts were made to legal aid in an attempt to save £450M a year.
In 2005, over £2.6B were used to help these women. In 2016, that number has been cut in half. Some believe that the cuts are a false economy, and the money that could have been used to help thousands of people has been spent elsewhere. This leaves victims of domestic abuse without proper means to use a lawyer during a trial.
According to figures from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), over 3,234 victims were without legal representation during at least one trial in a family court during the first nine months of 2017. This number is drastically higher than the 1,309 victims without representation in 2012.
On top of the budget cuts made, in 2013 the MoJ placed restrictions on domestic abuse cases, which limited the categories of acceptable evidence and only allowed aid when abuse was shown to have taken place in the previous five years.
After receiving heavy criticism from human rights groups and the public, these restrictions were scrapped, but it still makes us think – how far will the MoJ go to save money? Why are domestic violence victims taking this blow?
“We’ve been calling for changes to the evidence gateway since the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (Laspo) was implemented in 2013 and welcome this news. Parliament has committed to protect victims of domestic abuse so ministers have a duty to ensure that those who need legal aid are able to access it,” said Elspeth Thomson, chair of the legal aid committee at the family law organization Resolution.
“These changes, made in consultation with Resolution and others, are a step in the right direction, allowing the justice system to better support at-risk and vulnerable people at perhaps the most difficult time of their lives – when the family unit is breaking down,” said Thomson.
Not many are pleased with the government’s slow action, believing that changes need to take place now to ensure that no victim of domestic violence is forced to go to court without representation.
“Ultimately, these are real people, not statistics, and we must protect them and their access to the justice system,” says Thomson.
Too many women have been denied justice due to the actions of the MoJ. Of course, the decision to repeal Laspo is a step in the right direction, but clearly more needs to be done to reverse the effects of the changes made in 2012 and 2013.
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