Cuts to legal aid ‘punishing the most vulnerable’ in society

A woman finally finds the strength to walk away from her abusive partner after being subjected to a seemingly endless cycle of violence, bullying, control and humiliation to seek justice – only to be told she doesn’t meet the criteria, writes Tracy Brabin MP.

This is the brutal reality facing thousands of women throughout Britain as Tory Government cuts to legal aid continue to punish the most vulnerable in our society.

I have had two such cases recently where constituents, women at the end of their tether, have contacted me after being rejected for legal aid because they earn slightly over the eligibility threshold. It could be a matter of pounds. There’s nothing more we can do – you will have to fund your own representation, they are told. End of conversation.

If this is not indicative of a broken system, I don’t know what is.

The state washes its hands while the abuser is free to hurt the victim unchecked.

Two women are killed each week by their partner or ex-partner in England and Wales on average, yet a system stacked in favour of the perpetrator persists.

A Tory Government decision in 2012 to remove legal aid for family law cases had a profound and catastrophic impact on the accessibility of justice for those fleeing abusive partners. It is no coincidence that between 2012 – 2017 applications for civil legal aid in domestic violence cases fell by 20%.

Since the 2012 Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 was introduced by the Government, the number of domestic violence victims representing themselves in family courts increased by an astounding 147%.

This has led to a terrifying situation where survivors with no legal background whatsoever are frequently left to face their abuser in court, often with the custody of their children at stake.

The Ministry of Justice has been cut more than any other Government department, and these cuts are threatening the very fabric of our judicial system.

According to the Office for National Statistics in 2017, four out of five domestic violence victims did not report their abuse to the police. When domestic violence remains one of the most underreported crimes, and justice so hard to come by it’s not difficult to see why.

Every survivor of domestic violence should feel empowered to report these heinous crimes and be met with an open, supportive and truly accessible justice system that supports them in their quest for justice, so while the current legal aid system can undoubtedly be a barrier, I would still urge each and every survivor to report it to the police and seek justice. There are places to turn for support.

Here in Kirklees we have organisations such as the Women’s Centre and The Pennine Domestic Violence Group who do phenomenal, life-changing work with survivors.

If you, or anyone you know, is suffering as a result domestic violence and you are not sure where to turn, please don’t hesitate to contact my office on 01924 900036 or by emailing tracy.brabin.mp@parliament.uk and we will be more than happy to point you in the right direction.

You do not need to suffer alone.

 

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