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Thursday, 17 May 2012

REFORM TO THE LEGAL AID BILL

Emma Peart from MTA Solicitors LLP discusses the recent  amendments to the Legal Aid Bill


Further to the bill being passed back from the House of Lords there have been some amendments to the Legal Aid Bill.

Firstly, the scope of definition of domestic violence that can be covered by legal aid has now taken that used by the Association of Chief Police Officers

Now victims would not have to show evidence of a criminal prosecution for domestic violence before claiming legal aid. Also, the bill has been amended so that the definition of evidence that can be used to prove domestic violence can now include admission to a refuge, a letter from a GP or social worker, an undertaking made by the perpetrator or a police caution he or she might have received

Welfare benefits on a point of law to upper tribunal, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court will continue to be covered by legal aid. The Justice Secretary has also said that appeals on a point of law to the lower tribunals could also be covered, if Ministry of Justice officials could find a way of ensuring that somebody other than the claimant or their lawyer certified that a point of law was involved.

The time limit to bring a claim for domestic violence has been extended to two years.

While these amendments are welcomed by many, some feel that too many persons suffering domestic violence will not be able to obtain legal aid under still.

Lady Scotland has fought to extend the grounds on which victims of domestic violence can claim legal aid. Lady Scotland says imposing a time limit shows a complete misunderstanding of domestic violence as victims can suffer for some years before finally deciding to take action. She also argued that the criteria for legal aid should include information from police over attendances at the matrimonial home. However, it was argued that while police may be called many times it is often the case that the victim will not press charges and so attendance records should not be used as evidence of domestic violence. At the moment the gateway does not include information from the police that there has been visits to a property due to a concern of domestic violence.