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Cuts to UK legal aid will put domestic abuse victims at risk

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Summary of story from The Guardian, October 24, 2011

Legal aid cuts in the UK mean more victims of domestic violence will be cross-examined in court by alleged perpetrators, a coalition of family and children’s charities has warned.

In a manifesto sent to all MPs, the group – which includes the Bar Council, the children’s commissioner, Liberty, Women’s Aid and Gingerbread – calls on ministers to protect vulnerable children and partners in divorce and family proceedings.

The legal aid, sentencing and punishment of offenders bill, which will save £350 million a year from the legal aid budget, has completed its committee stage in the Commons and will be debated on the floor of the house next week.

The Ministry of Justice has said legal aid will be preserved for those who suffer violence and psychological abuse in domestic disputes.

Family charities and the legal profession claim the definition remains too narrow and that alleged perpetrators will not be entitled to legal representation, resulting in many conducting personal cross-examinations.

Stephen Cobb QC, chairman of the Family Law Bar Association, said: “We face the very real prospect that many children and women who have been victims of domestic abuse will have to endure the further trauma of being cross-examined by their alleged perpetrator, who will not be eligible for legal aid.

“When the government consulted on these proposals, virtually no one supported them. The civil legal aid cuts will be bad for children, bad for women and bad for families.”

The manifesto states that the narrow definition of domestic abuse in the bill will limit legal aid to victims of certain types of abuse.

It suggests that because of problems likely to be created for the courts, the government may not save money and could even be faced with increased costs.

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