More domestic violence victims to get legal aid, lawyers still have no praise for Liz Truss

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By Katie King on

Can she ever win?

It has been revealed that Liz Truss will relax legal aid restrictions for domestic violence victims, but the usually chatty legal Twitterati had nothing to say about it.

The Guardian broke the news yesterday that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) will make it easier for victims to provide the requisite evidence, known as ‘gateway evidence’, for their family law legal aid applications.

At the moment, litigants applying for public funding in private law proceedings (divorces, child custody issues, non-molestation orders, etc) must prove they have been a victim of domestic violence using evidence from the past five years. The time limit used to be two years, but this was extended after the Court of Appeal said it was “invalid”. In practice, the looser time limit can still cause difficulties for victims who have been abused for longer than five years, but have no recent documents to prove this.

The form this evidence must take is also very restrictive. While medical reports, criminal convictions and injunctions, for example, meet the criteria, letters from solicitors, statements for domestic violence organisations and information from housing officers do not.

But this is all set to change. The MoJ is planning to remove the five-year limit and allow different categories of evidence.

It’s hoped this change will lead to more men and women obtaining legal aid. In 2015, the House of Commons Justice Select Committee found that 39% of domestic violence victims couldn’t provide the evidence demanded by the Legal Aid Agency (LAA). A more recent survey of women who claim to be victims found 37% didn’t have the requisite documentation.

In a family law system plagued by red tape, Truss’s announcement is almost certainly a positive one. Yet legal Twitter was somewhat of a desert on the issue.

Speaking to anonymous legal blogger the Secret Barrister this morning, he explained why this might be. The MoJ announcement, he said:

[I]s long overdue, but what is overlooked is that at the same time Truss is proposing to slash the fees for court-appointed advocates for unrepresented defendants in criminal cases, making them financially unviable for advocates to take on. There is a risk that just as a problem in the family courts is addressed, the same problem is recreated in the criminal courts.

Legal Cheek wonders whether Truss will ever redeem herself from her disastrous first few months as Justice Secretary. Within hours of her appointment, a cringey video of her ranting about cheese did the rounds, and it was all downhill from there really.

She’s been laughed at for telling MPs barking dogs deter drones from prisons, voted Twitter’s ‘Cabinet Clown’ of 2016 and, just this week, was slammed for calling Lord Neuberger ‘David’ in a “car-crash” TV interview with Andrew Marr. Even when she ordered a review into alleged domestic violence perpetrators cross-examining their victims in family law courts, lawyers still had little good to say. Is it too little too late for Truss?

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