A LOOK AT THE CHANGES TO THE LEGAL AID BILL19th Apr 2012
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill currently being considered in the House of Lords has been further amended following 11 defeats to the Government's requests.
In a bid to cut £350 million from the annual legal aid budget, Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, initially declared that victims of domestic violence could only be eligible for legal aid if they had already reported abuse to the police. Campaigners argued that many women in particular were too frightened to telephone the police when it was exactly those women who desperately needed the assistance of legal aid to apply for court protection.
Last night, Mr Clarke relented slightly in stating that any victim whose partner or ex-partner had a caution of violence against them would be entitled to legal aid. In addition, the Government has agreed to widen the definition of domestic abuse by utilising the Association of Chief Police Officer's definition which includes not only physical abuse but emotional and psychological harm also.
In another change, the rules regarding evidence of abuse have been relaxed and a note from a doctor about the abuse would entitle women to the free legal support, while women admitted to a refuge and those receiving social services support will also be entitled to claim legal aid.
Legal aid is to be preserved for appeals to the upper tribunal, court of appeal or supreme court in welfare benefits cases. Legal aid will also be available for cases involving brain damaged babies. However, Mr Clarke has insisted the Government will not be making any further concessions.
Currently, 250,000 cases of divorce and family breakdown receive legal aid. If the bill is passed it is estimated this will be reduced to 40,000. Family mediation is provided to 80,350 families and couples to prevent divorce cases going to court. If the bill is passed, this will be reduced to 35,350.
If you have any questions or would like to discuss any area of family law, please contact Lindsay Halliwell on 01202 293226.