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Evidence tests for domestic violence are unlawful, says Court of Appeal

Rights of Women appeal succeeds

The legal challenge by Rights of Women of the domestic violence evidence requirements for family law legal aid has been successful. After an appeal hearing in the Court of Appeal on 28 January the two year time limit for evidence has been ruled unlawful and the Government required to amend the legal aid regulations to ensure that women experiencing financial abuse are able to access family law legal aid.

In his judgment in R (Rights of Women) v The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State forJustice [2016] EWCA Civ 91, Lord Justice Longmore said:

"Legal aid is one of the hallmarks of a civilised society.

"I would conclude that … regulation 33 does frustrate the purposes of LASPO in so far as it imposes a requirement that the verification of the domestic violence has to be dated within a period of 24 months before the application for legal aid and, indeed, insofar as it makes no provision for victims of financial abuse."

Director of Rights of Women Emma Scott said:

"For nearly three years we know that the strict evidence requirements for legal aid have cut too many women off from the very family law remedies that could keep them and their children safe. Today's important judgment means that more women affected by violence will have access to advice and representation in the family courts.

"The Court of Appeal has accepted our arguments that the fear of a perpetrator does not disappear after 2 years and recognised that forms of violence such as financial abuse are almost impossible for women to evidence. We look forward to working with the Ministry of Justice on amendments to the regulations to ensure that women affected by all forms of domestic violence are able to get legal aid."

Law Society President Jonathan Smithers said the Law Society supported the challenge brought by Rights of Women because legal aid is a lifeline for victims of abuse:

"The LASPO legal aid cuts have resulted in radical consequences for access to justice, with the worst impact affecting the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of society. Survivors of domestic violence should not be subjected to the over-strict tests required by the regulations as they now stand.

'The harsh tests exclude victims from accessing legal aid for family-law disputes against an abusive ex partner or relative and are not what parliament intended. This ruling means that access to safety and justice will no longer be denied to the very people the government expressly sought to protect with its amendments to the regulations."

Resolution's Chair, Jo Edwards, said:

"Women suffering from domestic abuse need access to justice. This is why Resolution members welcome the judgment made today by the Court of Appeal as it will help to ensure those suffering, or at risk of suffering, domestic abuse are able to access advice and representation.

"Resolution and our members have been proud to help Rights of Women provide evidence thatillustrates that the current rules are flawed. We look forward to working with the Government and our partners to make the changes necessary to ensure more victims of domestic abusehave access to family legal aid."

18/2/16 (supplemented 19.2.16)