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Legal aid lifeline to domestic violence victims welcomed by Vera Baird

24th February 2017

Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, Vera Baird DBE QC,  has welcomed  changes to scrap time limits, which prevent vulnerable domestic abuse survivors from accessing legal aid.

Legal aid is intended to enable the victim to get the court to address vital issues such as determine parenting arrangements for their children, financial support for them and also the family’s housing arrangements.

The change, announced by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), means the five year limit for applications will no longer apply.

Campaigners including Ms Baird, believe this will give a lifeline to many victims and provide them with much needed legal representation.

The much criticised rules  have meant victims seeking legal representation in disputed family court hearings, where they’re potentially forced to confront their abuser,  have had to demonstrate that they have been targeted within the past five years.

Changes also revealed on Thursday, stated that statements from organisations working with domestic abuse victims will in future also be accepted as evidence of risk.

Dame Vera Baird QC, said: “Relaxing these legal aid restrictions for victims of domestic violence is welcome news. Too many victims of domestic abuse, who have found the strength to come forward, have been let down by the existing system with its countless loopholes preventing those who need it from accessing legal aid.

“This is certainly a step in the right direction and I hope it means politicians will turn their heads to other pressing issues. Ensuring sufficient and sustainable funding for specialist support services and proceeding with changes to legislation to save victims from the threat of being interrogated by their former partners  in family court must be at the top of the list.

“It’s the Government’s responsibility to ensure victims of domestic abuse and their dependents are given the help they need otherwise they will fall through the net and may continue to suffer at the hands of their abuser.

“This change does not bring the family courts in line with best practice in the criminal courts In Criminal Courts, where such instances occur the court can direct that a lawyer is instructed to do the cross examination, whatever the perpetrator wants, and can authorise legal aid to cover the costs. Lawyers are now concerned that a similar system will be introduced into the family court yet at the expense of cutting fees for doing this job in the criminal courts.

“Cross-examining a perpetrator of domestic abuse, without being briefed for the whole case, is a very concentrated task and merits reasonable fees. I have heard of concerns that funding for criminal cross examination is being cut perhaps to fund cross-examining in the family courts. That could deter good representation and not solve the problem which is being targeted.”