Previous legal aid eligibility
From 1 April 2013, legal aid has only been available in a limited number of family cases including:
- Care proceedings
- Children cases where there is evidence of domestic abuse against the parent or the child, in the preceding 24 month period
- Domestic violence injunctions (also referred to as Non-Molestation Orders)
- International child abduction cases.
Evidence of domestic abuse
People who were the victims of domestic abuse, as well as qualifying financially, would need to provide evidence of the domestic abuse, by way of documentary evidence. Examples of such evidence include a relevant unspent conviction or caution for a domestic violence offence; a copy of an injunction; a letter from a domestic violence support organisation confirming that someone had been in a refuge (or refused admission to a refuge); and a copy of a letter from a health professional,such as a GP, confirming injuries or a condition consistent with domestic abuse.
The problem with the previous eligibility?
The number of domestic violence victims who did not have legal representation in the family courts has doubled in the last five years.
Significant concerns were raised that these previous requirements were too restrictive. Interim measures were introduced in an attempt to address the harshest restrictions. For example, in February 2017, the time limit of the preceding 24 month period in which the domestic abuse had to have taken place was extended to cover the preceding 60 months. At the same time, measures were introduced to provide for victims of financial abuse, where one person is financially controlling another.
What changes have been made to legal aid eligibility for 2018?
From 8th January 2018, there have been significant changes to the rules governing legal aid, specifically the evidence that needs to be provided in respect of victims of domestic abuse as follows:
- The 60-month time limit has been scrapped completely. The abuse can have taken place at any time in the past.
- Victims of domestic abuse will be able to use letters from domestic abuse support organisations, letter from a housing officer or a letter from the Home Office that a victim has been granted leave to remain in the UK due to domestic violence.
- The evidence of domestic abuse can relate to another person with whom the perpetrator was in a family relationship. For example, evidence that the perpetrator was convicted for a domestic violence offence on a previous partner will now be accepted.
The likely impact of the new changes to legal aid eligibility?
These changes mean that more victims of domestic abuse should be able to gain access to legal aid. However, only time will tell whether the changes will have the anticipated impact, and reduce the number of cases where victims of domestic abuse are left without legal representation.
However, at Clark Willis, we recognise that not all clients will qualify for Legal Aid, but still require legal advice and representation from an experienced family solicitor. We can offer clients the chance to spread the cost of their legal fees each month.
If you wish to obtain further information as to whether you will qualify for legal aid, or if you wish to discuss options for payment of legal costs, please contact our team of experienced solicitors at Clark Willis on 01325 281111.
Katie-lee Pearson- Family Law Specialist, Clark Willis Law Firm LLP