The changes to the granting of legal aid remain a course of contention since their introduction in April 2013, now almost two years ago. The controversial implementation of Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) and accompanying regulations has reduced the availability of legal aid making the criteria to be eligible for certain applications, particularly for Private Law children disputes, incredibly strict. Whilst some cases are not affected by this – cases such as “care proceedings” or cases that involve child abuse, abduction amongst others there remains unrest that the legislation might be failing some victims of abuse.
Victims of domestic violence can apply for emergency legal aid to seek the protection of a non molestation and occupation order for safety from an abusing spouse, partner or family member – and a successful application would give the necessary evidence to apply for legal aid – however a victim will also often seek immediate help to protect and safeguard their children when an injunction may not be the priority.
The criteria, in addition to an assessment of the financial circumstances of a party and the merits of their case, is:
– The opponent has a relevant unspent conviction for a domestic violence offence or a caution in the two year period preceding the date of the application.
– Evidence of relevant criminal proceedings which have not yet concluded or relevant protective injunctions against the opponent dated within the last two years.
– An undertaking within the last two years
– An undertaking given to a court in England and Wales under the Family Law Act 1996, again within the last two years
– Evidence from a Chair of a MARAC (Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference), Health Professional, Social Services department or domestic violence organisation, in effect within the last two years confirming evidenced domestic violence.
There is also further guidance from the MOJ via the following link: http://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/legal-aid/funding-code/evidence-requirements-for-private-family-law-matters-guidance-april-2013.pdf.
Against a backdrop of falling numbers of cases where both parties in Private Law cases are legally represented, adding arguably to an already strained judicial system, the High Court has in the recently published case of  EWHC 35 (Admin) has rejected a challenge to the legality of government changes to legal aid for victims of domestic violence. The challenge was made on behalf of Rights of Women, and supported by the Law Society, and it was based upon the rules introduced from April 2013. Rights of Women report that 40% of women affected by violence do not have the required evidence in order to apply for family law legal aid and they are seeking permission to appeal the decision.
The decision emphasises the continued need for us to be proactive in offering a service to clients to allow them to benefit from advice and to continue to consider the strict criteria for legal aid funding. We continue to offer legal aid to those who qualify. If you would like to find out how, please contact us. If you are not eligible for legal aid we may still be able to help and find a solution that works for you.
We offer a wealth of experience in dealing with all types of family cases, including domestic abuse and often complex children cases involving allegations of abuse, child protection and substance misuse. We regularly represent parents and other family members in dealing with the arrangements for children, including Public Law proceedings brought by Local Authorities.
Ed Bidder works in all aspects of family law, in particular dealing with children and matrimonial matters, assistant to Mark Smith. Ed is training to become a Legal Executive. Stephens Scown has offices in Exeter, Truro and St Austell. Its top-rated family team advises clients on a wide range of family law issues including divorce and family finance. Ed can be contacted on 01392 210700 or email firstname.lastname@example.org