9th April 2014

Good news about Legal Aid for Domestic Violence victims… at last!

The Legal Aid Agency announced a change in their policy regarding Legal Aid for domestic violence victims. This was a direct result of Adam Slawson, Cris McCurley and the rest of the team at Ben Hoare Bell. We fought for the Legal Aid Agency to make an exception for our client, and they have now decided to make a rule change.

The legal aid handbook has released this statement, recognising the work of Ben Hoare Bell.

The Firm has received positive feedback from a variety of people and organisations, including regional domestic violence organisations. We’re so pleased to finally see some good news for legal aid and domestic violence victims as a result of our efforts.

Cris’ Open Letter to Resolution and the Legal Action Group

Here are some questions that I am asked a lot when I do training about domestic violence evidence:

  • Why will the Ministry of Justice/Legal Aid Agency not accept evidence from Refuge outreach or IDVAs – do they suspect them of dishonesty? I work with a lot of both who find this insulting.
  • What will happen if, as I can testify is often the case, the client does not know that the perpetrator’s bail has been dropped/NFA’d, or does not tell us? I can think of many cases in which this could happen innocently – e.g. women who speak no English, women with mental health issues or learning disabilities – do we just lose the costs for the work we have done?
  • The new refuge concession is not clear – will we be asked how many refuges she tried to get in to? What will happen in any event to women with older male children who do not get into refuges, or women with no recourse who do not get into refuges?
  • Any proof requiring a medical professional to recognise domestic violence is more in hope than in expectation.

All in all, I do not feel that these concessions add anything, and the proofs are just as difficult to obtain given:

  • The reliance on a (self-confessed) unenlightened medical profession – who get 3 minutes per patient which is too little to assess or identify domestic violence.
  • Police bail. At a time when the Police’s own assessment report on the force action to combat violence against women and girls makes such thoroughly depressing reading (not to mention the statistics for report vs. charge).
  • The complete discounting of those who really can identify and assess – the specialist NGOs and the IDVAs.

These comments will form part of my final submissions to the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, due to report to the Ministry of Justice on the 15th April.

We cannot be complacent while any woman who is a victim of violence is denied access to justice.

Best wishes