Domestic violence victims are being let down because of legal aid cuts

I’ve written before about the chaos being wrought in our courts by the rise of litigants in person – citizens forced into representing themselves in court due to the Government’s cuts to legal aid.

One of the more worrying consequences of this has been that victims of domestic violence have increasingly found themselves in the unnacceptable situation of being cross-examined in court by violent ex-partners.

Despite assurances from Ministers at the time that the legal aid cuts were introduced, that victims of domestic violence would not be affected, the reality has been that many of them are being forced to come to court without legal representation.

The Independent reported recently, the Exceptional Case Fund (ECF) which was established to help people such as domestic violence victims get free lawyers, received 617 applications from April to December 2013 but only eight were granted.

Statistics for April to June this year show that only five out of 125 applications were succesful.

For those wanting to apply for legal aid, there is a very high and bureaucratic threshold in place to demonstrate evidence. Such evidence, say from a GP’s letter, comes at a cost which vulnerable women often can’t afford.

Judging by the above figures, it is proving almost impossible for women to receive legal aid and it is therefore making cross examination by their perpetrators increasingly common.

As Emma Pearmaine, a family law specialist at Simpson Millar, told the Independent:

“Victims no longer get their day in court. Instead of relief it turns into humilation at the hands of their abuser. The authorities should be doing more to protect these victims’ dignity – it’s surely common sense these vulnerable women aren’t degraded further.”

Emma will be speaking on 17 November at a parliamentary launch of a new pamphlet highlighting the impact of civil legal aid cuts. I am involved in supporting this important event through my union PCS and you can invite your MP along to it here.

One in four women will suffer domestic violence in their lifetime and on average, two women a week are killed by a current or former male partner.

Surely these are the very people funding for our justice system should be going towards protecting. Instead we are seeing these victims being subjected to further trauma in the courts because of this Government’s fixation with cost cutting.

A full and independent review into the impact of these cuts is urgently needed and it’s pleasing to hear that the Labour Party have launched a comprehensive review of their own.

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