Legal Aid

Legal aid cut will let abusers confront victims in court

PUBLISHED October 24, 2011

Children and women who are vctims of abuse will face the trauma of being cross-examined by their own alleged attackers under plans to cut legal aid from 600,000 people, MPs will be told today.

The cuts to family justice will mean hundreds of people going to court on their own without lawyers under plans that remove legal aid from 54,000 people a year who go to court.

The warnings come from an unprecedented alliance of groups representing women and children as MPs prepare to debate theLegal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders bill at its report stage.

The groups, which include Gingerbread, Women?s Aid, Liberty, the Association of Lawyers for Children, the Bar Council and the Children?s Commissioner, is urging ministers to amend their plans to save £350 million from the annual legal aid bill.

The groups have published a Manifesto for Family Justice which is being sent to all MPs.

Victims of domestic abuse themselves will qualify for legal aid, but not the alleged perpetrators, the manifesto says. That ?will result in an increasing number of vulnerable witnesses being subjected to cross-examination by their alleged abuser in court.

At the same time, the decision o exclude most adults from family cases could result in children alleging abuse being cross-examined by the alleged abuser, even though they have legal aid themselves.

A third concern is that the narrow definition of domestic abuse that will qualify for legal aid means that women would not receive legal aid if ?for example, they have been admitted to a refuge but have chosen not to bring proceedings against their abusive partner.?

Stephen Cobb, QC, chairman of the Family Law Bar Association, said that the broad coalition had come together from concern about the impact on vulnerable families and children.

?We are facing a disturbing new landscape in which 600,000 people will no longer receive legal aid, 68,000 children will be affected by the removal of legal aid in family cases, 54,000 fewer people will be represented in the family courts annually and there will be 75 per cent fewer court cases [involving disputes over children and money] will attract legal aid.?

The result, he said, would be ?an increasingy number of people going to court on their own without representation. That is DIY justice, not access to justice. ?

He added that there was a ?very real prospect? that many women and children who had been victims of domestic abuse would have to ensure the ?further trauma? of being cross-examined by their alleged perpertrator, who will not be eligible for legal aid.?

Ministers plan to save money and court costs by encouraging people to settle disputes out of court, through mediation.