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Archers custody battle highlights unfairness of legal aid eligibility rules

Posted: 15 September 2016

As Archers' characters Rob and Helen face each other in the family court tomorrow to decide custody of sons Henry and Jack, the Law Society highlights the unfairness of rules that determine who is eligible for legal aid.

Law Society head of justice Richard Miller said: 'Current legal aid rules mean that abusive Rob could qualify for legal aid to have a solicitor represent him, but Helen would not.'

Helen Titchener, a character in The Archers, was acquitted of attempted murder after stabbing her husband, Rob, after suffering months of abuse.

Richard Miller explained: 'Under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, legal aid for most family law cases has been abolished. One of the few exceptions is if someone can produce documentary evidence that he or she is the victim of domestic abuse.

'In Ambridge, Rob will clearly be able to do that. He was stabbed by Helen. But the emotional abuse Rob has perpetrated will not give rise to any documentary evidence. A real-life Helen would be left to face her abuser without a solicitor to represent her.'

The granting of legal aid would be subject to a means test but if someone can produce documentary evidence that he or she is the victim of domestic abuse they would qualify for legal aid.

Evidence from the charity Rights of Women shows that in the real world this is a serious problem affecting many women. Forty per cent of victims still do not have the required forms of evidence to access legal aid. This is despite amendments to the regulations in April 2014.

Richard Miller added: 'Without legal aid, women are unable to access family law remedies, which are vital in order to help them escape from violent relationships and protect their children. They are being forced to face their perpetrators in court without legal representation.

'Legal aid is a lifeline for victims of abuse. We are currently in constructive discussions with the Ministry of Justice to amend the rules. We hope that the case of Rob and Helen will help to drive home just why the current rules are problematic and that they must to change.'

 

Contact: Law Society press office: 020 7320 5764
 

Notes to editors

About the Law Society

The Law Society of England and Wales is the independent professional body, established for solicitors in 1825, that works globally to support and represent its members, promoting the highest professional standards and the rule of law.