Access to legal aid widened for domestic abuse victims
Law Society has suggested any expansion of legal aid for special guardians be non-means tested
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has laid a Statutory Instrument – secondary legislation – on the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (Legal Aid: Family and Domestic Abuse) (Miscellaneous Amendments) Order 2022 widens access to legal aid for victims of domestic abuse.
Law Society president, Lubna Shuja, commented: “It is good to see the widening of legal aid. We have long lobbied on Special Guardianship Orders which allow children to be cared for by someone other than their parents”.
However, Shuja suggested any expansion of legal aid for prospective special guardians should be on a non-means tested basis.
“It is often grandparents involved in these cases – who may have limited income – but own their own home or have a small pension, which will exclude them from legal aid, yet they do not have access to the funds necessary to instruct a solicitor to advise and represent them on a private basis”, Shuja said.
Shuja welcomed a changed in legal aid evidence requirements, which will allow a GP to provide medical evidence for a victim of domestic abuse following a phone or video consultation.
“We have long called for this change,” said Shuja. “Only accepting evidence after face to face appointments has been a major barrier for victims during the pandemic when the majority of appointments have been taking place virtually – a practice that is still continuing.
“The number of family legal aid offices has more than halved over the past decade. Firms have been closing their legal aid departments year-on-year, as it is no longer financially viable to do this type of work. The number of providers with civil legal aid contracts has been falling.”
The Law Society’s legal aid deserts maps show that across England and Wales:
· 52m people (88 per cent) do not have access to a local education provider
· 40m (67 per cent) do not have access to a local community care legal aid provider
· 23.5m (39 per cent) do not have access to a local legal aid provider for housing advice
Shuja concluded: “The UK government needs to ensure there is a sustainable provider base to undertake this vital work and allocate proper funding and resource to it.”