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Domestic violence victims could lose eligibility to legal aid

New research conducted by Rights of Women and Welsh Women’s Aid has shown that at least 46% of domestic violence victims will not be eligible for legal aid because of the dangerously restrictive forms of evidence that they will be required to produce.

The organisations involved in the research say that this demonstrates that if the Government is to stand by its commitment to ensure that legal aid is retained for domestic violence victims in private family law proceedings, the domestic violence gateway criteria must be widened to better reflect the range of routes that women take to safety and the kind of evidence they might have. This must include evidence from specialist domestic violence organisations, health services and social services.

Welsh Women’s Aid member groups surveyed 324 service users for one week during December 2011 to ascertain what forms of evidence domestic violence survivors might have to corroborate their experience of violence.

The research shows that of the 324 women who are already in receipt of specialist support as a victim of domestic violence:

  • 46% would not have any of the evidence that the Government has proposed to require of them and would therefore not be eligible for legal aid to resolve their family law problem.
  • 54% would not have any of the evidence that the Government has proposed to require of them if the 12 month time limit for evidence was also applied.
  • 19% had no corroborating evidence other than that from a Welsh Women’s Aid member group.
  • 99% had reported at least one incident to the police and/or the police had attended an incident involving domestic violence yet only 8.3% would be able to prove that there had been ongoing criminal proceedings in the last twelve months.
  • A wide range of statutory and voluntary sector professionals and agencies were reported to have been aware of the domestic violence but under current proposals much of this evidence would not be accepted by the Government.

This cannot be fair surely? Shouldn’t the Government be making changes so that any woman and her family have easier access to Legal Aid at such a time when they really need it?

What do you think?

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