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High Court grants permission for Rights of Women to challenge the lawfulness of government changes to legal aid

19 September 2014

Today, the High Court granted permission for Rights of Women to challenge the lawfulness of government changes to legal aid.

The changes are preventing victims of domestic abuse from getting legal aid for family cases, even when it is clear there has been violence, or there is an ongoing risk of violence. Represented by the Public Law Project and supported by the Law Society, Rights of Women argue that this is not what parliament intended.

Commenting on the High Court decision, Law Society president Andrew Caplen said:

'It is great news that the Court has recognised that the harm being done to the victims of domestic violence by the restrictive regulations this government brought in may be unlawful. We welcome the swift timetable for hearing the case, as those suffering as a result of these rules need clarity as soon as possible.'

Legal aid changes introduced by the government in April 2013 required victims of domestic violence to provide a prescribed form of evidence in order to obtain family law legal aid. Many women affected by violence do not have the required forms of evidence. Some of the forms of evidence are subject to a 24-month time limit, although perpetrators may remain a life-long threat to their victims.

Legal aid is a lifeline for victims of abuse, enabling them to escape from abusive relationships, protect their children, and manage their financial situations. Access to their family law remedies is vital in these cases. The statistics are stark: two women are killed each week by a current or former partner and 500 recent victims of domestic violence commit suicide every year.

It is hoped that the substantive hearing will take place before the end of the year.

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