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Domestic abuse victims face Legal Aid issues

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Legal Aid, domestic violence victims, injunctions, costs, ‘Victims did not proceed because they were ordered to contribute to the legal costs’ and could not do so.

More than 6,000 domestic abuse victims in England have been unable to get emergency court orders stopping their abusers from harming them, according to the National Centre for Domestic Violence.

The National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) provides a free, fast emergency injunction service to survivors of domestic violence.

This allows anyone who has recently suffered or been threatened with domestic violence to apply for an emergency court injunction – sometimes issued within 24 hours of them making contact with NCDV.

And NCDV works in close partnership with the police, solicitors and other support agencies, Refuge or Women’s Aid for example, to help victims obtain speedy protection.

Legal aid applicants for non-molestation orders are means-tested and often told to pay towards the cost.

The government said it was making it easier for domestic violence victims to prove they needed Legal Aid, but the National Centre for Domestic Violence told BBC Radio 5 live Investigates that the problem arises when they appear to have money or assets of their own.

It said too many women were turned away because they appeared to own assets or savings that were actually under the control of their abusers.

Or take as an example mother-of-two ‘Alice’, whose name has been changed to protect her identity. She was granted legal aid to secure a non-molestation order after she told police about years of violence inflicted by her husband.

But after getting the injunction she said the Legal Aid Agency got back in touch to say she had not qualified for free legal representation – and she was handed a bill.

“I got a letter saying the injunction would cost me £6,000,” she said. “I was in tears when they told me, it was a complete shock.

“The only way I’d be able to pay that money was to get a loan I couldn’t afford, or to sell my house and move back in with my mum,” she added.

Alice is now appealing against the decision but she said that if she had known from the outset she would have to pay she would not have proceeded – and so she’d have had no choice but to let her abuser back into her life.

Changes introduced under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 removed most legal aid in the family courts – except in cases of domestic violence.

But to secure free legal support, victims have to provide evidence of the abuse, and be subjected to a means test regarding their income and assets.

During 2017, NCDV took 78,356 referrals from police and domestic violence groups in England, but of those 6,295 victims did not proceed because they were ordered to contribute to the legal costs and could not do so.

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