Family Legal Aid – What is now available?
Legal Aid is still available for some victims of domestic abuse (including children) and for mediation for those on a low income/state benefits (outlined below)
It is clear from recent evidence obtained one year on from the implementation of the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) that, following a 60% drop from the previous year in private family law cases, that the general public are largely of the view that Legal Aid is not available in this area of the law.
This is leaving a section of society, those who are the victims of domestic abuse, and children who are at risk, very vulnerable.
Legal Aid is still available for those victims – provided they meet the strict financial and evidential requirements. Unfortunately, however, even with recent changes to the evidential requirements, the victim still needs to provide evidence of one of the following in order to be granted Legal Aid:
i) that the respondent has been convicted of a domestic violence offence against the applicant and that that offence is unspent
ii) that the respondent has accepted a caution for domestic violence offence against the victim within the past 2 years
iii) that the respondent is on police bail for a domestic violence offence
iv) that the respondent has received a domestic violence protection order
v) that the respondent has a binding-over order for a domestic violence offence
vi) that there are on-going criminal proceedings of a domestic violence offence against the applicant
vii) that the applicant has a protective injunction (ie a non-molestation order) in force or one has been made within the last 2 years
viii) that the respondent has given an undertaking in respect of domestic violence and the undertaking is still in force or has been made within the past 2 years (where no cross-undertaking has been given)
ix) that the applicant has been referred to a multi-agency risk assessment conference (MARAC) as a result of domestic violence and a plan is in place within the past 2 years
x) that the applicant has a report from a doctor, nurse or midwife confirming they were examined in respect of an injury or condition consistent with domestic violence within the past two years
xi) that the applicant has been assessed by social services as experiencing or being at risk of domestic violence within the past 2 years
xii) that the applicant has a letter from a refuge confirming they stayed there for a period of more than 24 hours within the past 2 years
xiii) that the applicant has been assessed by a psychologist as experiencing or being at risk of domestic violence within the past 2 years
xiv) that that the applicant has evidence from a domestic violence support service where they have been referred by a health professional; or that the applicant has been unable to access a refuge due to insufficient accommodation.
Legal Aid is also available to assist when a child is at risk from a former partner of the applicant (a parent or step-parent of the child). The legal aid only available in matters that apply to the children, eg where the children live or who they spend time with. They do not apply, for example, financial claims between the parties.
The criteria is largely the same as the above but also includes the following forms of evidence where a child or children are involved:
i) criminal conviction
ii) police caution
iii) police bail for a child abuse offence
iv) ongoing criminal proceedings
v) protective injunction
vi) finding of fact by a court
vii) letter or child protection plan from social services
viii) application for a protective injunction with a prohibited steps order
If the victim can provide evidence as outlined above and they meet the financial criteria, eg is on a low income and/or are in receipt of the following state benefits:
- Income Support
- Jobseeker’s Allowance (income-based)
- Employment and Support Allowance (income-based)
- Pension Credit – Guarantee Credit
- Universal Credit
then legal advice and representation could available to them and the victim should seek help and assistance.
Legal Aid is also available to assist parties in attending mediation, provided that the party or parties meet the same financial criteria as above.
Mediation involves an impartial third person, who is a qualified professional (the mediator) assisting those involved in family breakdown to communicate better with one another and to help them to reach their own agreed and informed decisions about some or all of the issues relating to or arising from the separation or divorce including children, finance or property.
In most family cases, mediation is mandatory before an application can be made to court in any event.
For any further information, please contact a member of our Family department on 01484 538421.