Our legal aid system, of which we have been rightly proud, is facing the most devastating cuts in its history.
Although I am not a family lawyer the proposed restrictions in cases of domestic violence defy all logic.
Under the proposed new regime a victim of domestic violence will find it virtually impossible to get legal aid to apply to the court for protection. The victim will have to establish that there is a ‘high risk of violence’, before legal aid will be available.
Most commentators and practitioners accept that in reality this means that there will have to have been reports to the police. Statistics show that very few women report violence to the police. Speaking recently in the House of Commons Helen Goodman MP said – ‘most women experience 20 episodes of domestic violence before they reported to the police.’
Firms who specialise in family law and have recently audited files and report last caseload which numbered hundreds will be reduced to single figures once these cuts take effect.
The reason a civil remedy was brought into existence in the 1970s was to address this very problem. These provisions take us back 40 years and will seen many women trapped in abusive relationships.
Any civilised society has to have a rule of law. However if that rule of law is to be of anything but notional value, there must be an equal right of access. To deny that some of the most vulnerable members of society the support of that society to seek protection is a dangerous and retrograde step. I certainly hope that these provisions will be opposed in the Lords