Lucinda Connell, the North East’s leading specialist divorce and children lawyer of Major Family Law, solicitors comments the government can review the restrictions placed on legal aid for domestic abuse cases, says national charity.
Only one in five adults believe it is easy to tell what counts as domestic abuse, according to new research undertaken by the charity Citizens Advice. The research involved surveying 2,000 British adults and also revealed one third were not aware domestic abuse can happen between former partners.
Domestic abuse is most commonly considered to be physical or verbal; psychological and financial abuses, which can continue long after a relationship has ended, was found to be harder to recognise and, therefore, dangerously difficult to defend.
Financial and psychological abuse is harder for a victim to prove and in turn makes attempts to gain legal support difficult. An analysis of almost 200 cases of financial abuse brought to the charity between January and June 2014 revealed that nine in ten victims of this type of abuse were women.
However, only 39% of people consider financial abuse as a form of domestic abuse, compared to 86% who considered psychological abuse as domestic abuse. Just two fifths of respondents to the survey were aware that making a partner account for all their spending signified domestic abuse. A small, but perhaps surprising, 13% believed that domestic abuse can only take place between cohabitating people and not between those casually dating.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced last month that in the year up to April a record number of people, 107,000, were prosecuted for domestic abuse and other violence against women and girls offences. Michael Gove, the justice secretary, recently spoke about reforming the criminal justice system to ensure victims of domestic abuse were not made to suffer again by waiting years for a trial. In response to the survey, Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said it was encouraging that the Lord Chancellor wanted to do more to tackle domestic abuse. She stated:
“There is an opportunity for the government to review the restrictions placed on legal aid for domestic abuse cases. As it stands, it is a struggle for many victims to get the professional help they need to legally protect their children and separate from an abusive partner.
The suffering of domestic abuse victims is going undetected. Many people do not realise abuse can occur after a relationship has ended and be financial or psychological, as well as physical. Without the knowledge and understanding of the extent of abuse it is difficult for family and friends to make sure people get the help they need.
New measures from the government to make coercive control illegal will ensure those found guilty of these crimes are punished. For this to truly help victims the public and authorities need support to identify abuse.”
In March of this year, the Justice Select Committee concluded that more than one third of domestic violence victims were unable to provide the necessary evidence required to obtain legal aid, following the introduction of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) 2012.
The Act withdrew legal aid for family law cases unless victims were able to provide evidence of domestic violence in the previous two years. Evidence can range from a conviction, police caution, protective injunction, letter from a health professional, or proof of residence in a refuge.
The Rights of Women organisation found that ’39 per cent of women who were victims of domestic violence had none of the forms of evidence required to qualify for legal aid’.