Key concessions secured on the Legal Aid Bill
On 1 May 2012 changes to Legal Aid were enshrined in law as the Legal Aid, Punishment and Sentencing Bill received Royal Ascent. Following a year of passionate campaigning by WI members and many others on the potential impact of the changes on domestic violence victims, key concessions were secured during the final parliamentary stages.
While the final Act is far from perfect, the concessions certainly strengthen the Bill and we hope that they will mean more women who experience domestic violence will be able to access legal aid.
Bill round up:
The NFWI has been calling for the Bill to include a comprehensive definition of domestic violence that encompasses the full range of abuse that women experience, including financial and psychological abuse. The government agreed to include the wider definition of domestic violence used by the Association of Chief Police Officers.
We have also been calling for the evidence threshold to be widened, so that women are able to use evidence from a wider range of professionals, for example a doctor or a domestic violence support worker, in order to access legal aid. The government agreed to widen the evidence gateways to include a police caution, evidence from a GP, social services, or of admission to a refuge.
- We also called for restrictions that would prevent women using evidence that is more than a year old to be removed. The government decided to extend the time frame for eligibility of evidence to two years.
NFWI Chair Ruth Bond's response to the government's concessions:
"We welcome the concessions made by the government on the domestic violence aspects of the LASPO Bill; the government has listened and responded on the need to strengthen safeguards to ensure that access to legal aid for victims of domestic violence is protected.
However we remain concerned that victims of domestic violence will continue to fall through the net; these concessions, although welcome, only respond to part of the picture. The reality is that women take a wide range of different routes out of domestic violence. Many women will access domestic violence support services without going into refuge, other women will face being dragged into the family court system without legal support because their case is more than two years old.
The NFWI believes that all women who experience domestic violence should have access to legal aid, regardless of their individual circumstances, and while we commend the government for the concessions it made last night, we would have liked to have seen it go further.
We would like to thank all those members and non-members that supported the campaign and voiced their concerns. We will continue to work with the government to ensure that these commitments are honoured in secondary legislation; we look forward to hearing further details of their publication and implementation."
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