As The Cuts Bite. What Chance Have We Got?
It has been a while since I last posted, there have been some recent developments that concern me greatly.
I will start with the National Crime Statistics which were published earlier this month. It showed that reported cases of domestic violence rose by a shocking 35%. It was reported that three quarters of those were repeat victims. Please bear in mind that many victims suffer numerous instances of abuse and/or violence before they report the crime for the first time.
It is horrendous but not surprising. The government has cut funding for organisations that support and offer practical help for victims of abuse and domestic violence. Their resources are stretched to the absolute limit. Also there are police cuts being implemented and reports of specialist domestic violence officers being scrapped across the country. More police cuts are in the pipeline.
If that doesn’t scare you then the following should.
The Legal Aid Bill currently being pushed through parliament by Ken Clarke will put victims at an enormous disadvantage when it comes to seeking justice through the courts.
Mr Clarke assured the country that victims of domestic violence would still be entitled to Legal Aid, they would be looked after. This has proved to be untrue.
Yesterday I read an article from Law Society Gazette. It states that the government plans to deny access to Legal Aid to victims who accept undertakings from their abusive partner. Such undertakings will not be accepted as proof of domestic violence for Legal Aid purposes. It is difficult enough to prove abuse in many cases without the added problem this poses.
It will also allow abusers to force victims to drop their cases as a result of legal representation being unaffordable. I know I would never have been able to afford the legal fees of my divorce alone, never mind the injunction I tried so desperately to have served on my ex husband and the arrangement of supervised access to our daughter (he actually got bored of that after 8 weeks and stopped showing up). I would have been forced to remain married to a man who subjected myself and our daughter to regular abuse and violence, unable to seek protection through the courts and so leaving us in immediate danger. It took several months of solicitors appointments and letters to have the divorce papers served, many attempts and court appearances to have a non-molestation order served upon my ex husband. That would not have happened without Legal Aid.
Mr Clarke is also closing several specialist domestic violence courts, ensuring that it is even harder for victims to receive justice.
I have only ever had to prove abuse once. My solicitor never questioned my claims, my local authority did when I ran from a later abusive boyfriend and found myself homeless as a result. I was required to provide details of anything that could back up my claims. I had a police report from a few months before. That, I was told, was sufficient proof. I wonder if the Ministry of Justice would deem that enough proof to access legal aid. Right now there are no clear guidelines as to what will be deemed sufficient evidence of abuse or violence. That worries me immensely.
Please sign click the link below and sign the petition to help fight the cuts to Legal Aid and help ensure everyone has fair access to justice, regardless of their financial status. Don’t let justice be a preserve of the rich, please.