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The Association of Lawyers for Children has reported the results of research carried out by Rights of Women which confirms initial fears that many domestic violence victims would not meet the new evidence criteria introduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) and accompanying regulations, which were aimed in part at protecting legal aid provision for victims of domestic violence.
The regulations include a prescribed and exhaustive list of ten forms of evidence criteria, at least one of which must be met in order for domestic violence victims to access family law legal aid (s 33(2) of the Civil Legal Aid (Procedure) Regulations 2012).
Following the implementation of LASPO, the research found that half of women who had experienced or were experiencing domestic violence did not have the prescribed forms of evidence to access family law legal aid. 16.7% of women had to pay over £50 to obtain copies of evidence, and 37.5% had to wait longer than 2 weeks to receive copies of their evidence. A total of 60.5% of women did not take action in relation to their family law problem as a result of not being able to apply for legal aid. 23.7% paid for legal representation privately, and 15.8% represented themselves. Women had also found it very difficult to access a legal aid solicitor, and where they were available often the distance they needed to travel to get to an appointment made it prohibitive.
Respondents to the surveys carried out as part of the research described the detrimental effect lack of access to legal aid had on them, including the inability to appeal a residency decision, and the pressure of having to borrow money from friends and family. The necessity to self-represent for some respondents had also caused them to come face to face with an abuser in court.