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Peers in the House of Lords have voted through an amendment to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, which will help ensure that victims of domestic violence continue to receive legal aid on issues around divorce or separation, by extending the evidential criteria required to demonstrate that domestic violence has taken place.

The amendment was proposed by Baroness Scotland and supported by Baroness Butler-Sloss, the former President of the Family Division, among others. In one of three votes against the government on the first day of Report stage of the Bill, this amendment was carried by 238 votes to 201.

Speaking in response to the amendment, Resolution’s Chair, David Allison, said:

“We are pleased that Peers voted through an amendment which seeks to ensure victims of domestic violence continue to receive legal aid to assist in resolving issues arising on divorce or separation. The Government and MPs now need to take notice of this sensible move and uphold this important amendment when the Bill returns to the Commons.

“In addition, we were pleased to hear the Government will accept undertakings as evidence of domestic violence for the purposes of providing legal aid, regardless of what changes are made to the Bill. Many women who have been abused seek undertakings from their alleged abuser, with the oversight of the family court, as a way to protect themselves and their children, without needing to go through a traumatic trial.”

 

Resolution, the association of family lawyers, has issued a warning over the consequences of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Bill. 

A survey of members undertaken by Resolution found that, according to the vast majority (87%), LASPO would mean that less than 25% of people they currently help would still qualify for legal aid.

The social implications would be considerable: the survey also found that 57% believe a parent risks losing contact with their child in at least half of their cases. Based on the surveyed lawyers alone, this represents well over 4,000 children.

LASPO would also withdraw legal aid from many parents trying to get back children who have been abducted within the UK, even though 91% of those surveyed believe there is a risk of abduction in at least some of their cases.

“It is clear that the Government’s proposed legal aid cuts could bring devastating consequences. Many of those currently eligible for legal aid would seriously struggle to obtain the legal advice and support that could ensure that they continue to see their children after a difficult separation”, said David Allison, Chair of Resolution.

“The changes also risk increasing the nation’s benefits bill. Many of our members say that the majority of their clients would not know what financial settlement they are entitled to, which could see them left dependent on the welfare state and benefits.

“Resolution is committed to the constructive resolution of issues arising from separation, through options such as mediation, and the organisation welcomes the Government’s desire to see fewer family cases going through the court system. However, there needs to be support for those for whom mediation is inappropriate, which, according to the survey, could be in as many as 40% of cases.

“We are concerned that, by focusing so heavily on mediation, the Government will punish those for whom it simply won’t work through no fault of their own – for example, if they have an abusive or uncooperative partner.”

 

Posted by on in Family Law

The Law Society has welcomed the delay in implementation of new rules governing civil and family legal aid, announced by the Ministry of Justice. The announcement was made in a written statement to Parliament and moves the implementation date from the originally proposed October 2012 to April 2013. 

A new report from Citizens Advice has warned that planned legal aid cuts will mean that most people who need free legal advice on separation, divorce, child support and family breakdown will no longer be able to get it.

An alliance of organisations which represents the rights and needs of women, children, families and victims of domestic abuse and/or are engaged in the administration of family justice, has published a Manifesto for Family Justice, ahead of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Bill moving into Report Stage in the House of Commons.

The Children’s Society has expressed serious concerns about the impact of the cuts to legal aid to thousands of children, many of whom are extremely vulnerable.