Lawyers warn that victims of domestic violence are forced to face abusers in court
- 13 Oct
A rising number of domestic violence victims are now being cross-examined by their former partners in court due to cuts in legal aid, making the process a lot tougher for victims of abuse.
Family law specialists are warning that cuts in legal aid are leading to a rise in litigation-in-person cases, reports The Independent.
Emma Pearmaine, a family law specialist at Simpson Millar and director of the Leeds Law Society, said: "The number of women being cross-examined by abusive ex-partners in court has doubled in my experience since 2013. Judges do their best to step in and control cross-examination situations where it is a case for an injunction, or non-molestation order, for example, but they should be there to adjudicate on the case - not manage behaviour as a priority. These women are some of the most vulnerable in society and they now have no real protection. They are let down from start to finish. They suffer abuse at home then torment from their abuser in court. For them there is no sense of justice."
Victims no longer "get their day in court" she said. "Instead of relief it turns into humiliation at the hands of their abuser. The authorities should be doing more to protect these victims' dignity - it's surely common sense these vulnerable women aren't degraded further. Changes need to be made to allow women in these sort of cases free legal protection."
The Ministry of Justice's Legal Aid Commission established an Exceptional Case Fund to support victims of domestic violence receive access to lawyers has only accept eight applications from April to December 2013 out of 617.
Most recent statistics published by the Ministry of Justice last month for the period April-June this year show that out of 125 ECF applications in the "family" category just five were granted.
Plaid Cymru MP Elfyn Llwyd, a family law specialist before becoming an MP, said it was "an extremely disturbing issue" and that many women could not afford to seek justice. "There are fewer cases coming forward because of the costs of obtaining a report to begin proceedings, usually between £80 and £150. For women who do make it to court it is unacceptable for alleged abusers to cross-examine their victims. Steps have been taken in criminal cases for that not to happen but it seems inevitable now in cases where neither side has representation."
Emma Scott, director of Rights of Women, said: "This is an important step in holding the Government to account on their promise that family law legal aid would remain available for victims of domestic violence. We know from the women affected that it denies them access to the legal remedies which could enable them to leave violent and abusive relationships and find safety."
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