Domestic abuse victims’ rights protected through strategic litigation
A High Court ruling yesterday means victims of domestic abuse who jointly own property with their abuser must not be automatically denied legal aid on the grounds of capital that is in practice ‘trapped’. The court found the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) has discretion over whether legal aid should be granted in these cases.
We supported this strategic litigation brought by Public Law Project (PLP) with an adverse costs indemnity. Access to Justice committee member Jenny Beck represented the client, ‘Claire’, pro bono for two years up to today.
‘Claire’ said: “This ruling could mean I won’t have to face my abuser in court without being represented. The last time I had to face him in court was horrendous. I had to speak for myself whilst he was there with a barrister. I was so nervous and scared that I was physically sick in the court room. My mum has already taken out so many loans to help me through this so hopefully she won’t have to do that anymore. We still have a long way to go with our legal challenges, but this ruling gives me some peace of mind. If it means that other women won’t have to face their abusers in court, that will be amazing.”
Law Society of England and Wales president David Greene said: “The Law Society is proud to have supported this challenge which raises issues of huge importance for access to justice for the most vulnerable. There was a clear injustice in denying victims of domestic abuse legal aid on the grounds of property they co-own with their abuser. Today’s judgment provides important clarification for victims of domestic abuse and we hope it will give more people confidence that they can secure the legal support they need to leave an abusive relationship and deal with the consequences.
“This is one of a number of cases we are working on with the Public Law Project. The Law Society engages in strategic litigation when a strong case promotes justice, where a judgment would provide clarity and have broad consequences beyond the individual case.”
PLP said: “Without the Law Society’s support, it would simply not have been possible for us to bring this case on behalf of our client. The profession’s commitment to widening access to justice is vital to achieving that goal.
“The news means a great deal to our client. The decision to deny her legal aid will now need to be reconsidered. This judgment is an important clarification of what the legal aid rules mean, and that is a positive step towards better access to justice for our client and for other women in a similar situation.
“Thank you Law Society!”