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Northumbria PCC Vera Baird welcomes legal aid change for domestic violence cases

19th February 2016

Government rules restricting access to legal aid for domestic violence victims have been ruled unlawful by the Court of Appeal, a change welcomed by Northumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Vera Baird.

It means the Government will now have to remove the stipulation that people applying for legal aid have to produce evidence of domestic violence within the previous two years.

The former regulations also effectively excluded victims who have suffered other forms of abuse such as financial abuse.

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.

Research by campaign group Rights of Women, who appealed against a high court judgment that upheld the evidence requirements as lawful found that 40% of the women didn’t have the stipulated evidence to be able to apply for legal aid, something Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, Vera Baird, has described as  ‘completely unacceptable’.

Commissioner Baird, said: “Too many victims of domestic abuse, who have found the strength to come forward, have been let down by a system blocking them from accessing necessary legal aid.

“Today’s decision by the Court of Appeal should pave the way for more victims of domestic abuse to get the help they need. It’s clear to me that the controversial and unacceptable measures had been the Government’s way of rationing the access to funds rather than qualifying need.

“As it was, people making allegations needed separate and very specific categories of evidence as well as their own testimony. However, much domestic violence, by definition, occurs between two people away from public view. Put simply – the system was failing victims.

“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.”