Worries That Legal Aid Reform Could Threaten Safety of Abuse Victims; WOMEN'S GROUPS CLAIM THAT HALF WILL NOT BE ELIGIBLE
Byline: GRAHAM HENRY
NEARLY half of victims of domestic abuse will no longer qualify for legal aid under the Government's planned cost cuts, a Welsh women's group has warned.
Research from Welsh Women's Aid and Rights of Women has concluded that 46% of women who already claim specialist support as a victim of domestic violence will not be eligible to legal aid under cuts proposed by the Ministry of Justice.
Plans under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, currently being debated in the Lords, would require victims of domestic abuse to present recent, valid supportive evidence, such as police or medical reports, in order to be entitled to any financial help.
The group's research reports that 46% would not have the necessary evidence, rising to 54% if the mooted 12-month time limit for evidence was applied.
The data was obtained from Welsh Women's Aid members across Wales in December, with 324 women qualifying for legal aid under existing guidelines.
Paula Hardy, chief executive of Welsh Women's Aid, said yesterday: "Our research demon-strates incontrovertibly that if the UK Government is to stand by its commitment to ensure that legal aid is retained for domestic violence victims in private family law proceedings, the domestic violence gateway criteria must be widened to better reflect the range of routes that women take to safety and the kind of evidence that they might have.
"This must include evidence from specialist domestic violence organisations, health services and social services. "If the UK Government doesn't make these changes, many domestic abuse victims will be unable to access justice, which will leave them trapped in abusive relationships and vulnerable to further harm." A Welsh legal expert also warned that the government's proposed cuts would have a "serious impact" upon ordinary people who weren't able to afford proper representation. Madeline Rand, marital and family law specialist at RLE Law in Cardiff, said: "The cuts proposed by the government are aiming to prevent legal aid being available for cases which wouldn't exist if they weren't being funded by the public purse. …