Access to vital legal support extended to millions of vulnerable people
Over 6 million more people now eligible for legal aid advice and representation
- domestic abuse victims will face fewer barriers to funded assistance in the courts
- proposals deliver on recommendations to support victims in family courts
Domestic abuse victims and children are among millions more people who will have access to legal aid under major government investment to support those who need it most.
The move will see over 6 million more vulnerable people and families able to access funded legal support as the government pledges £25 million to boost the legal aid system every year.
It means domestic abuse victims on universal credit and seeking a protective order for themselves or their children against their attackers can access legal aid funding more easily without facing a means test.
Those who share a house with their abuser will also benefit from changes to disputed or inaccessible assets – which will no longer be considered when assessing someone’s financial eligibility for aid.
Taken together, these measures also go further to support victims of coercive control by making them eligible for legal help without needing to access funds from joint assets.
It comes as the government publishes a progress report following recommendations made by an expert ‘Harm Panel’ to improve responses to domestic abuse and safeguarding across the family justice system.
The report shows positive progress is being made across the family courts such as the launch of a new investigative approach pilot in three family courts and a review of the presumption of parental involvement.
Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Alex Chalk, said:
"Widening access to legal aid secures justice and strengthens the rule of law.
"These changes mean more vulnerable people like domestic abuse victims will be able to access the protection of the courts."
Other measures which will come into force over the next 2 years include:
- Free legal representation will be available to anyone under the age of 18, as well as for parents challenging traumatic and difficult medical decisions such as withdrawal of their child’s life support - removing one more burden for families
- Making everyone eligible for legal aid to defend themselves in the Crown Court, ensuring fair trials and ending the so called ‘innocence tax’ where people were forced to pay for a legal defence even if they were then found not guilty
- Increasing the amount of income someone can receive before having to contribute to legal aid fees by over £3,000 for civil cases and over £12,000 for criminal cases in the magistrates’ court
Justice Minister Lord Bellamy said:
"We have made huge strides since the Harm Panel published its report and delivered cultural changes across the family justice system to ensure domestic abuse victims feel supported and protected.
"Our changes to the legal aid means test will also make the justice system fairer for those who need it most."
The changes to legal aid access for domestic abuse victims were part of a package of recommendations made by the ‘Harm Panel’ to better safeguard vulnerable people against domestic abuse in family courts.
Its report found serious failings in the family courts with concerns that lengthy courtroom battles were re-traumatising victims, and that allegations of domestic abuse were not taken seriously.
The progress report published today shows the government has delivered a number of changes to better protect children and parents including:
- a ban on perpetrators cross-examining their victims in court
- automatic special measures for victims such as protective screens and giving evidence via video link
- clarifying the law on ‘barring orders’, to prevent perpetrators from bringing their ex-partners back to court, which can be used as a form of continuing domestic abuse.
Legal aid provides support for people who are unable to afford legal representation or need financial help in taking issues to court.
Expanding the eligibility criteria helps more people access the justice system to get the support they need.