Government extends free legal advice for domestic abuse victims
Help is also being offered to those who face eviction or repossession
As part of a £2.2bn investment in civil and criminal legal aid over three years, domestic abuse victims will be able to access free legal advice and representation under new changes to the legal aid system introduced yesterday (17 October 2022).
The extra support for domestic abuse victims aims to facilitate the use of new domestic abuse protection notices and domestic abuse protection orders. These orders were committed to by the government under the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.
Once in use, police will be able to issue protection notices to provide immediate protection for victims following an incident.
Protection orders will impose longer-term conditions on offenders, such as ordering the perpetrator to attend behaviour change programmes or wear an electronic tag.
Victims protected by the orders will now have access to free expert legal advice and representation in court.
Justice minister, Lord Bellamy KC, said: “Legal advice should always be available to those who need it, especially victims of domestic abuse who often rely on lawyers to ensure they are protected from abusers.
“By making it easier for victims to access legal aid, more people will be better supported through court proceedings and can start the process of moving on safely with their lives”.
Doctors will also be allowed to submit letters of evidence for legal aid applications following video or telephone consultations – another change to support victims.
Other legal aid changes introduced yesterday will:
- ensure special guardians (family or friends who take on parental responsibilities for a child) are eligible for legal aid in private court proceedings to determine parental control over a child;
- standardise the means and merit testing requirements for birth parents involved in placement and adoption order proceedings where a local authority is authorised to place a child for adoption;
- ensure victims of domestic abuse applying for indefinite leave to remain in the UK, under the immigration rules, are eligible for legal aid.
Reforms are also being introduced in relation to the former housing possession court duty scheme. An extra £10m a year will be invested and will mean anyone who faces eviction or repossession will receive free early legal advice before they appear in court. They will also continue to receive advice and representation on the day of their hearing.
Individuals who receive a repossession notice will also be entitled to early, free legal advice on debt and welfare benefit matters, to provide support in relation to wider issues they may have.