Further reforms of legal aid eligibility criteria

More victims of domestic violence will be eligible for legal aid after the Ministry of Justice agreed to drop restrictive “imaginary capital” rules for home ownership that falsely inflated their wealth and deprived them of help.

The new regulations were introduced following a high court judgment in November which said that a single parent and domestic abuse survivor who had only £28 in the bank should not have been refused legal aid for a case involving a dispute over child contact.

Legal aid eligibility is assessed by a complex means test. The previous formula meant not all mortgage debt was taken into account and consequently calculated that applicants had disposable funds that did not exist.

The new regulations were laid as a statutory instrument on Friday 18th December 2020. By ensuring more victims of domestic abuse are given legal representation, it reduces the risk of them being cross-examined by their abusers in court.

The majority of family law cases have not been eligible for legal aid since the 2012 Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO); an exception was preserved for survivors of domestic violence.

David Greene, President of the Law Society of England and Wales said: “There was a clear injustice in denying people legal aid on the grounds of mortgage debt. Nobody should be expected to sell their home and make themselves homeless in order to access justice. It is good news that the Ministry of Justice is addressing this immediately through legislation.”

Amanda Erskine is a solicitor in the Family department at Barker Gotelee Solicitors in Suffolk.

Ipswich Divorce Solicitors – for more information on our range of legal services, please call the team on 01473 611211 or email bg@barkergotelee.co.uk