On Friday 19 September the High Court will consider whether to grant permission for Rights of Women’s legal challenge of the lawfulness of Government changes to legal aid to be heard. These changes are preventing victims of domestic abuse from getting legal aid for family cases, even when it is clear there has been violence, or there is an ongoing risk of violence. Represented by the Public Law Project and supported by the Law Society, Rights of Women argue that this is not what parliament intended.

Legal aid changes introduced by the Government in April 2013 required victims of domestic violence 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.

Legal aid is a lifeline for victims of abuse, enabling them to escape from abusive relationships, protect their children, and manage their financial situations.  Access to their family law remedies is vital in these cases. The statistics are stark; two women are killed each week by a current or former partner and 500 recent victims of domestic violence commit suicide every year.

Emma Scott, Director of Rights of Women, said:  “We know that nearly half of women affected by domestic violence do not have the required forms of evidence to apply for family law legal aid. As a result the majority of those women tell us that they took no legal action as a result, leaving them at risk of further violence and even death. This legal action is taken on behalf of those women in order to hold the government to account on their promise to continue to make family law legal aid available to victims of domestic violence.”

Law Society President Andrew Caplan said: “The over-strict tests required to bring evidence to satisfy the broader statutory meaning of domestic violence are not what parliament intended. Legal aid is often the only way that those who suffer at the hands of abusers can bring their case before the Courts. 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.”


Notes to editors

  1. For further information contact Emma Scott, emma@row.org.uk  Tel  0207 251 6575
  2. Counsel in this case are Zoe Leventhal and Nathalie Lieven of Landmark Chambers
  3. PLP is an independent, national legal charity which aims to improve access to justice for those whose access is restricted by poverty, discrimination or other similar barriers. To fulfil its objectives PLP undertakes research, policy initiatives, casework and training across the range of public law remedies.
  4. Rights of Women is a registered charity that provides free legal advice to women and engages on a policy level concerning access to justice and violence against women issues. We provide training on legal issues to statutory and third sector professionals, write legal publications designed to assist individual women, and those supporting them, through the law and provide three legal advice lines offering legal advice to women on immigration and asylum issues, sexual violence and criminal law, and family law (including domestic violence, divorce, contact disputes). Our advice lines are staffed by qualified practising women solicitors and barristers. More information about our work can be found at www.rightsofwomen.org.uk
  5. The Law Society is the independent professional body, established for solicitors in 1825, that works globally to support and represent its members, promoting the highest professional standards and the rule of law. Contact the Law Society Press office: 0207 320 5902