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

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9

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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9 Comments

Anony Mouse

The description of the time limit is wrong; the Government has never applied a time limit to abuse, only to evidence of abuse. So, if you get a letter today saying that your partner hit you in 1983, it’s valid for 5 years as evidence.
Removing the time limit would obviously be better, as it would mean that letter stays valid indefinitely (saving everyone involved time and money of obtaining and vetting further evidence), and a more flexible approach to evidence that means victims can obtain it easily enough is needed.
The flipside, however, is that the Government have had anecdotal evidence of people abusing the system – claiming abuse to get legal aid, and allegedly obtaining evidence that meets the criteria. I’m skeptical, but there’s clearly a line to tread!

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Anonymous

WRONG WRONG WRONG!

All this crazy system does is to allow one side to make fake allegations of DV in order to get funding and strengthen their position.

Legal Aid should be available on a simple means test.

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Just Anonymous

“The form this evidence must take is also very restrictive… letters from solicitors, statements for domestic violence organisations and information from housing officers do not [meet the criteria].”

Quite right, surely? A solicitor’s letter is evidence that you have instructed your solicitor you are being abused. It isn’t evidence that your claims are actually true.

Ditto for letters from domestic violence organisations and housing officers.

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Anonymous

Domestic violence organisations and housing officers…. who are more likely to sympathise and take what they are told as gospel truth.

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Anonymous

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(1)(5)

Anonymous

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Anonymous

You’re 110% sick and need help.

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Anonymous

“Can she ever win”
If she did something correctly or good for society, yes.

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Anonymous

A “justice” secretary who is hell bent on destroying access to justice, forcing more LIPs, draining the Courts resources and risking thousands of lawyers out of jobs cannot hope to be liked. I don’t think that bothers her too much.

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