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MoJ research highlights barriers to family law legal aid for domestic violence victims

Report recommends expanding the current list of evidential requirements

The Ministry of Justice has published research conducted in 2016 to 2017 investigating the barriers some victims of domestic violence face when obtaining evidence required in legal aid applications for private family law disputes.

Victims stated that obtaining help in accessing evidence from a domestic violence support organisation; the experience/expertise of their solicitor in applying for legal aid; and the means test are all factors that influence whether or not they can access legal aid.

Respondents to an online survey, as well as both legal aid provider and victim focus group participants, highlighted a number of factors that hinder individuals from evidencing their abuse in order to access legal aid, including:

Respondents to the survey and the legal aid provider focus group participants suggested relatively similar alternative pieces of evidence that might be added to the current criteria in order to make it easier for victims to qualify.

These include, but are not limited to:

In terms of individuals at risk of experiencing domestic violence, respondents suggested, amongst other things, that the perpetrator's history of conduct (such as violence in a previous intimate relationship) and violent behaviour (for example previous arrests and convictions for GBH offences) should be an adequate form of evidence.

Suggested remedies to these issues include changing / expanding the current list of evidential requirements to reflect the concerns raised by respondents; removing the time limit and amending the means test to encompass working victims who may be unable to cover legal costs or who may be unable to access or utilise capital.

On 8 January 2018 changes to evidence requirements in private family law disputes came into effect. There is now no longer a time limit on abuse evidence, which previously stood at 5 years. Additionally, the range of documents accepted as evidence of abuse was widened to include statements from domestic violence support organisations and housing support officers. These types of evidence have contributed to the latest quarter's increase in applications for legal aid supported by evidence of domestic or child abuse. For details, click here.

For the full report, click here.