Changes to Legal Aid, Time Limits and Evidence
Impact of changes to domestic violence evidence under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012
Richard Port, Solicitor and domestic violence specialist at Family Law Group comments on the recent changes to Legal Aid, time limits and the addition of financial abuse evidence to assist those wishing to access Legal Aid.
Since the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) came into force in England and Wales in April 2013 its effect has been to remove Legal Aid for all private law services save where there is evidence that there has been domestic violence or child abuse.
Regulation 33 of the Civil Legal Aid (Procedure) Regulations 2012 provided that supporting domestic violence evidence must be no older than two years from the date of the application for Legal Aid. Therefore, any victim whose perpetrator, for example, convicted of an offence some two years before the application, would not be eligible for Legal Aid.
This regulation proved to be such a rigid evidential requirement that it resulted in the exclusion of a great many from accessing Legal Aid.
However, the charity Rights of Women in R (Rights of Women) –v- Lord Hold Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice  EWCA Civ 9 (on appeal from R (Rights of Women) v Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice  EWHC 35 (Admin) was successful in proving the Government had unlawfully used its powers to introduce such strict criteria and had therefore frustrated the purpose of what the LASPO Act was intended for.
The Court of Appeal gave their judgment stating the two year time limit should be extended to five years. The Court of Appeal ruled that the Director of Legal Aid Casework should have a general discretion to offer Legal Aid to those who can provide evidence of financial abuse. However, the evidence must prove that the behaviour was intended to gain control over the victim and not just as a result of mere financial dispute between parties.
Hopefully, these changes will allow more victims and their children who suffer domestic violence and abuse to obtain the legal representation and advice they need.
Author: Richard Port, Solicitor