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What consideration he has given to those responses to his Department’s consultation on legal aid that raised concerns about his Department’s definition of domestic violence.
We published the Government’s response to the consultation on
For family matters, including disputes about finance or children arising from the breakdown of a relationship, legal aid will be available for victims of domestic violence where there is evidence of a need for protection. Of course, we will also provide civil legal aid for victims of domestic violence to apply for protective injunctions, such as non-molestation orders.
It is reassuring that victims of domestic violence will remain eligible for legal aid under the changes, but the evidence is not always clear, because many victims will not report domestic violence to the police. What sort of evidence is the Minister expecting to see in order for people to qualify for legal aid?
We listened to the concerns expressed in the consultation that our criteria for evidence of domestic violence were too narrow and we have expanded them. The key issue is that the triggers must be objective.
In the light of the ongoing debate on this matter, does the Minister share the concerns expressed by the Westminster Public Accounts Committee about the dilution of the quality of Crown representation in all these cases, or does he take the view of the Northern Ireland Audit Office, which states that there is a lack of transparency in how the fees are calculated for taking on such cases?
We are certainly concerned about the transparency of fees and how they are calculated. We are looking at this very carefully as part of our overall reform of legal aid, particularly for the Legal Services Commission.
Women are often at risk of domestic violence when relationships break down, even when there is no previous history of it. According to the Association of Chief Police Officers, attempts to end a relationship are strongly linked to partner homicide and a higher risk of physical violence and sexual assault. Now no legal aid is proposed for divorce or child custody cases, and the definition of domestic violence is still very narrow and requires a history of complaints. How will the Minister ensure the safety of women now that they have to negotiate face to face with potentially violent partners?
I think the hon. Gentleman misunderstands the present system. At the moment, perpetrators rarely receive legal aid; it is the victims of domestic violence who receive it. That means that in the current system the victims face the perpetrators of the crime. The reality is that on a day-to-day basis the judiciary are having to deal with this and have set procedures that they go through to make the process as good as possible for the victims.