Domestic violence victims in their thousands are having to represent themselves in family courts, as government data have revealed the number without lawyers to have doubled in the last five years.
The Ministry of Justice showed that 3,234 victims had received no legal representation in at least one of their hearings.
Gloria de Piero, the shadow justice minister said “these figures show the shocking effect of the government’s cavalier to legal aid…”
“Thousands of victims of domestic violence are being forced to represent themselves in court against their abuser to seek protection for themselves and their children.”
Refuge, a charity that helps women who suffer from domestic violence, said increasing numbers of them had no option but to face their abusive ex-partners in the courts.
Sandra Horley, the chief executive of Refuge, said legal aid cuts “have had an enormous impact on women escaping domestic violence”.
Late last year, the MoJ scrapped heavily criticised restrictions on the access to legal aid for victims of domestic violence, hence limiting the categories of acceptable evidence, and claimed that aid would only be given where abuse could be shown to have taken place in the previous five years.
An MoJ spokesman said: “It has long been the case that some people represent themselves in the family court, but we want to increase the support available to them.
“Since 2015, the government has invested £5m of funding to support litigants in person through a range of measures designed to provide additional information, support and guidance led by the advice, voluntary and pro bono sectors.”
The government has faced widespread criticism for making significant cuts to legal aid in 2012 in an attempt to save £450m a year as part of wider austerity measures.
Critics of the legal aid, sentencing and punishment of offenders act included judges and human rights groups, say family courts in particular are being inundate with unrepresented clients. They also say the cuts are part of false economy, as cuts in this sector allow for spending elsewhere.
Victims of domestic violence shouldn’t have to go through the justice system alone and without legal representation. Speak to our family solicitors today by calling 0800 157 7055, and see how we might be able to be of assistance.