The European Court has upheld the long-standing principle that parties to a dispute should be able to choose their lawyers without having to go through a tender process (or use a framework).
Since April 2013 victims of domestic violence have had to provide “acceptable evidence” to obtain legal aid.
This has led to difficulties for many victims accessing legal advice as they could not provide, often in times of crisis, the necessary written evidence to obtain funding. This lead to concerns being raised by support organisations that many victims have stayed in abusive relationships because they are unable to afford legal representation, feel unable to represent themselves in court against the alleged perpetrator and fear losing their children into the care system.
The new changes mean that the evidence required for some of these gateway provisions for eligibility to Legal Aid have been eased. One example is that evidence that the alleged perpetrator is on police bail for a domestic violence offence or a child abuse offence may satisfy the gateway to obtaining public funding.
Other changes that may satisfy the gateway to Legal Aid include:
- The removal of the wording “High Risk” when referrals have been made to multi-agency risk assessment conferences (MARAC).
- Referral by a health professional to a specialist support service.
- Victims refused admission to a refuge due to lack of accommodation may now be eligible.
- A relevant domestic violence protection order issued under section 24 of the Crime and Security Act 2008.
- A Court Order binding over the alleged perpetrator is in force and was granted 24 months immediately proceeding the date of any Legal Aid application.
In a further welcome change the fees for applications for a non-molestation order (injunction), occupation orders and Forced Marriage Protection Orders are to be waived from 22nd April 2014 which will further assist victims seeking the protection orders that the Courts can provide.
It is hoped that these amendments to widen the evidence required to pass eligibility criteria for Legal Aid will assist more victims gain access to legal advice and assistance to protect themselves and their family.
What is clear is that all agencies dealing with victims of domestic abuse need to be aware that despite the wholesale reduction in eligibility to Legal Aid that took place in April 2013 there is still provision for victims of domestic abuse to access legal advice and assistance via Legal Aid.
A copy of the guidance can be found here: [media type="link" id=289]
For more information
For further information, contact Jas Tamber on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0121 214 3580.
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