Tens of thousands of domestic abuse victims have been ‘forced to continue to live in the shadow of their abusers’ in the decade since access to legal aid was cut, according to researches.
It is estimated that around 34,000 people have been denied support to seek orders to help evict the abusers from the family home or prevent them from returning at will.
The House of Commons Library has also calculated that since the law was changed 10 years ago, the proportion of domestic violence cases funded by legal aid has fallen from 75% to 47%.
Emily Thornberry, Labour’s shadow attorney general, blamed the “deliberate cruelty” of the coalition government, which she said was “perpetuated by their successors in the current cabinet”.
She added that urgent reform of the legal aid system was needed to “avoid a second lost decade for domestic abuse survivors and their children”.
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act was introduced in May 2012 and sought to impose capital and income limits on applicants for civil legal aid.
On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the entry into force of the law, the municipal library was asked to assess its impact. It revealed that civil legal aid expenditure in real terms for domestic violence cases fell by 37% in 2020-11 compared to 2020-21.
Officials said it was “not possible to say exactly how many people became ineligible who otherwise might have.” But they found that the ratio of domestic violence cases who received legal aid to those who did not fell from 0.75 in 2012-13 to 0.5 in 2020-21.
If the ratio had remained the same, the Commons library projected that an additional 41,000 people would have been eligible for legal aid in domestic violence cases.
Excluding about 17% of recipients who are alleged perpetrators, he concluded: “About 34,000 alleged victims could have been eligible for legal aid since 2012-2013, had it not been for the changes made.”
The true number could be higher, depending on the results.
A note on the statistics added that it was “likely that some people will be put off going to family court to settle cases involving domestic violence because they already know they are not eligible for help. legal”.
Thornberry said the law change was pushed by ministers who were ‘determined to carry out their austerity agenda on the backs of society’s most vulnerable, even at the expense of their duty to protect women’s safety’ .
She said tens of thousands of women were “forced to continue to live in the shadow of their attackers”.
Thornberry added: ‘We need urgent reform of our legal aid system to avoid a second lost decade for domestic abuse survivors and their children. We can’t be 10 more years old when these women who desperately turn to the government for help against their abusers have the door slammed in their faces.
The Department of Justice has been contacted for comment.