Express crusade helps domestic abuse victims
KEY progress is being made in the Family Court following the impact of the End The Injustice campaign run by the Daily Express.
Domestic abuse victims will face fewer barriers to getting financial support under a £25million boost to the legal aid system every year.
A new investigative approach pilot is being carried out in three family courts, along with a review of the presumption of parental involvement.
Steps including a ban on perpetrators cross-examining victims in court, along with automatic special measures for victims, including protective screens, have made a difference.
Giving evidence via video link and clarifying the law on “barring orders”, to block perpetrators from bringing their ex-partners back to court, which can be used as a form of domestic abuse, has also been introduced.
The changes, which the Express fought for, are designed to better protect children and their parents.
Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Alex Chalk, said: “Widening access to legal aid secures justice and strengthens the rule of law.
“These changes mean more vulnerable people like domestic abuse victims will be able to access the protection of the courts.”
More than six million vulnerable people and families will be able to get hold of funded legal assistance as the Government pledges £25million to boost the legal aid system every year.
It will help domestic abuse victims on universal credit and seeking a protective order for themselves or their children against their attackers to get hold of legal aid far easier and without having to face a means test.
Those under the same roof as their abuser will also benefit from changes to disputed or inaccessible assets, which will no longer be considered in terms of financial eligibility for aid.
Coercive control victims will be eligible for legal help without needing funds from joint assets.
Justice Minister Lord Bellamy said:
“We have made huge strides since the Harm Panel published its report and delivered cultural changes across the family justice system to ensure domestic abuse victims feel supported and protected.
“Our changes to the legal aid means test will also make the justice system fairer for those who need it most.”
Recommendations were made by an expert Harm Panel in a drive to improve responses to domestic abuse and safeguarding across the family justice system.
A series of other measures will be rolled out over the next two years, including free legal representation being made available to anyone under the age of 18 and also to parents challenging traumatic and difficult medical decisions, including the withdrawal of their child’s life support.
Plans are also being rolled out to ensure that everyone eligible for legal aid is in a position to defend themselves in the Crown Court to allow for fair trials along with ending the so-called “innocence tax”, where people are forced to pay for a legal defence even if found not guilty.
There will also be an uplift in terms of the income people can receive before having to contribute to legal aid fees by more than £3,000 for civil cases and more than £12,000 for criminal cases in the magistrates’ court.
The Express End This Injustice campaign led to the overhaul of the Family Court through the landmark Domestic Abuse Bill. It also campaigned for economic abuse, threats to share intimate images and non-fatal strangulation to be criminalised.