The domestic violence gateway was introduced in April 2013 as part of Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO). The gateway effectively removed legal aid for private family law matters, save where individuals could prove that they were victims of domestic abuse or there was evidence of child abuse. The evidence a victim had to provide in order to be granted legal aid was set out in a number of regulations and included letters from a Refuge provider or GP confirming an individual had been a victim of domestic abuse. The evidence also had to have been no more than two years old.
These restrictions were heavily criticised by many, including victims support groups and legal professionals, as severely restricting access to legal aid and often making it impossible to secure.
Following the prolonged and dedicated campaigning spearheaded by the charity organisation Rights of Women, the time limit applied to evidence of domestic abuse was increased from two years to five in mid 2016. In addition to this amendment the Ministry of Justice agreed to conduct a formal review on the impact of the LASPO regulations on access to justice.
In January 2018 the Ministry of Justice announced a number new guidelines in provision of domestic abuse evidence effective from 8 January 2018. Key changes include:
• the removal of the time limit on evidence;
• the recognition of evidence from organisations providing domestic violence support services
• evidence from housing officers, and
• evidence of violence towards a previous partner as risk of abuse.
The changes are a life line for many victims who were previously deprived of legal advice and representation in family court disputes over custody and contact with children.
If you need any advice with a family matter, please contact us to see if we can assist you.