Public awareness does not seem to have caught up with the fact that the government plans drastic cuts to public funding (legal aid) availability and that these cuts will affect many families. Legal aid is to be taken away for divorce, all children issues such as contact and residence(what used to be access and custody) and all financial and property disputes Legal aid will now only be available where there has been ‘Domestic Violence’
This might seem to protect vulnerable people; but does it? For there to be ‘Domestic Violence’ there must have been a criminal conviction or an injunction order. This is a very narrow definition. For various reasons often such legal orders cannot be obtained not least of which is the difficulty and delay in obtaining a criminal conviction in a ‘Domestic’ case and this will mean vulnerable people are left unrepresented.
This definition of‘ Domestic Violence’ is narrower than that set out by the Association of Chief Police Officers, Crown Prosecution Service, NHS, HMCS and other government departments. They all share the definition:-
“Any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of sexuality or gender.”
On 26th January 2011 the Supreme Court ruled that domestic violence in the context of housing law extends beyond physical contact to include other forms of violent conduct.
In framing the current proposed legislation the government has chosen to ignore these wider (and dare I say more sensible) definitions in favour of a definition which will deprive all but a very few of legal support.
The last chance for MPs to vote on huge cuts to free legal advice is coming up soon - make sure your MP does not stay silent!
Write to your MP to let them know you are concerned about cuts to legal aid that will cut off over 650,000 people from advice on complex benefits, debts, housing, employment and immigration problems, as well as help on family law and clinical negligence. It's easy! Please take 2 minutes to enter your postcode and use the template letter at: http://act.justice-for-all.org.uk/lobby/12