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More legal aid reform needed for domestic abuse victims

Domestic abuse victims are still being restricted in their access to legal aid – despite positive changes to the way the system is administered, a campaigning group has said.

Welsh Women’s Aid (WWA) said that, while the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) had introduced positive changes since it published a report last month, worrying shortfalls in training remain which affect access.

The UK Government introduced changes to how legal aid was granted, which required victims of domestic abuse to produce evidence so they could apply for family law legal aid, in April last year.

Research from WWA and the Rights of Women group, published a year after changes were first introduced, showed that more than four in 10 (43 per cent) did not have the prescribed forms of evidence to access the legal aid.

In a report seen by Wales Online, it also found 47 per cent ended up taking no action on their family law problem, because they were not able to apply for legal aid.

Nearly a third were also forced to pay a solicitor privately, while a quarter represented themselves at court.

Tina Reece, policy and campaigns officer at WWA, said legal aid can be a lifeline for women when their home and financial security has been turned upside down.

“This isn’t the end of the journey, however, as we will continue to monitor the effect of legal aid changes on women escaping domestic abuse to ensure that their safety and well-being in these often volatile situations is kept paramount,” she said.

A MoJ spokeswoman told Wales Online: “Where people have suffered domestic violence, legal aid must be available to help them break free from the abusive relationship.

“To ensure this is the case, we made further changes last month to make it easier for people to get the evidence they need to make their legal aid claim.

“These changes were warmly welcomed by charities, including Welsh Women’s Aid.

“We have also recently scrapped the application fee for protective injunctions to prevent domestic violence to make sure there are no unnecessary barriers between people and the help they need.”

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