Tens of Thousands of Domestic Violence Victims Denied Legal Aid, Study Finds
Thousands of domestic abuse survivors in the UK have been ‘forced to continue to live in the shadow of their abusers’ since access to legal aid was cut 10 years ago, a study has found.
Around 34,000 people are thought to have been denied access to restraining orders to help evict the abusers from the family home or prevent them from returning.
Since the law was changed in May 2012, the proportion of domestic violence cases funded by legal aid has fallen from 75% to 47%, the House of Commons Library has calculated.
Labour’s shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry blamed the “deliberate cruelty” of the Cameron-Clegg coalition government – in power between 2010 and 2015 – which she said was “perpetuated by their successors in the current cabinet”.
Ms Thornberry called for urgent reform of the legal aid system to ‘avoid a second lost decade for domestic abuse survivors and their children’.
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act was introduced 10 years ago, in May 2012, and was intended to impose capital and income limits on civil legal aid applicants.
A decade later, the Commons Library was asked to assess its impact. It found that civil legal aid expenditure for domestic violence cases fell by 37% between 2010-11 and 2020-21.
The study, reported by The Guardian, said it was “not possible to say exactly how many people became ineligible when they otherwise might have”. But they found that the ratio of domestic violence cases who received legal aid to those who did not fell from 0.75 in 2012-13 to 0.5 in 2020-21.
On the likely basis that the ratio had remained the same, officials projected that an additional 41,000 people would have been eligible for legal aid in domestic violence cases.
Excluding around 17% of recipients who are alleged perpetrators, the Library of Commons concluded: ‘Around 34,000 alleged victims could have been eligible for legal aid since 2012-13 had it not been for the changes made.’
But the results suggest the true number could be higher because it was “likely that some people are discouraged from going to family court to settle cases involving domestic violence because they already know they are not not eligible for legal aid”.
Ms Thornberry said the change in law had been implemented by ministers who were “determined to carry out their austerity agenda on the backs of the most vulnerable in society, even at the expense of their duty to protect the women’s safety”.
The MP for Islington South and Finsbury added that tens of thousands of women were ‘forced to continue to live in the shadow of their attackers’.
She said: ‘We need urgent reform of our legal aid system to avoid a second lost decade for domestic abuse survivors and their children. We can’t be 10 more years old when these women who desperately turn to the government for help against their abusers have the door slammed in their faces.
A Department of Justice spokesperson said: “Over 95 per cent of applications for legal aid in domestic violence cases are successful and we are making millions more people eligible through our means test changes. “
“The Domestic Violence Act transforms our response to this terrible crime – redefining economic violence, improving victim protections and bringing more perpetrators to justice,” the spokesperson added.