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Legal aid rules for domestic violence 'legally flawed', court rules

Campaigners argued that legal aid rules forced some domestic violence victims to face their attackers in court without representation. Credit: PA

The Court of Appeal has ruled that government changes to legal aid rules in domestic violence cases are "legally flawed".

Campaigners argued that large numbers of women who endured rape and violence were being unlawfully excluded from obtaining legal aid forcing some to face their abusers in court without representation.

Three appeal judges ruled the changes, which required verification of domestic violence over a two year period, as "invalid".

They also ruled the changes were flawed because they excluded victims of domestic violence who have suffered from financial abuse.

Campaign group, Rights of Women (ROW), which appealed against a High Court judgement that upheld the changes as lawful said the ruling was "potentially life-saving".

For nearly three years we know that the strict evidence requirements for legal aid have cut too many women off from the very family law remedies that could keep them and their children safe.

Today’s judgement is important recognition of women’s real life experiences of domestic violence and means that more women affected by violence will have access to advice and representation in the family courts.

– Director of Rights of Women, Emma Scott

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson, said the government was "determined to ensure victims of domestic violence can get legal aid whenever they need it," and claimed it had already been made easier for victims to claim.

We are pleased the court confirmed the Lord Chancellor did have the power to set domestic violence evidence requirements. We will now carefully consider the two findings made about the period of time for which evidence applies and concerns about victims of financial abuse... We have made it easier for victims of domestic violence to obtain legal aid, by ensuring a broader range of evidence qualifies. This has contributed to a 19% rise in the number of grants awarded.

– Ministry of Justice