Domestic Violence: Legal Aid

Oral Answers to Questions — Justice – in the House of Commons at 11:35 am on 25th April 2017.

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Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Conservative, Pendle 11:35 am, 25th April 2017

What progress the Government have made on their review of legal aid domestic violence evidence requirements.

Photo of Alan Mak Alan Mak Conservative, Havant

What progress the Government have made on their review of legal aid domestic violence evidence requirements.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

Following our completion of the review we announced our intention to make changes by secondary legislation that would make it easier for victims of domestic violence to access legal aid. These changes include removing the time limit on all forms of evidence and accepting evidence from domestic violence support organisations.

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Conservative, Pendle

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that answer. I appreciate that he might not be able to go into detail just yet, but can he offer a commitment to the victims of domestic violence of his continued support for them in the justice system in the next Parliament, if a Conservative Government are returned?

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I can certainly do that, and I can also point to the recent changes made in courts to help victims of domestic violence to give evidence, such as the video links that we have introduced, and the provision for recorded evidence and cross-examination which is about to be rolled out. It is also important to say that the House generally supported the end to cross-examination by perpetrators.

Photo of Alan Mak Alan Mak Conservative, Havant

I thank the Minister for his answer and welcome the announcement. Will he join me in commending the Southern Domestic Abuse Service, a Havant-based charity that helps victims of domestic violence report to the police, and ensure that he continues working with such charities to make sure that the evidential guidelines are consistent with the sensitivity of this issue?

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I am happy to pay tribute to organisations that help victims of domestic violence on their work, and I know from talking to my hon. Friend, who is a strong advocate for them, that that service in Havant is excellent—so, yes, I agree with him.

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Shadow Minister (Justice)

The Ministry of Justice committed to reviewing the domestic violence evidence requirements for legal aid. That was a clear admission that the scheme was not working and was not fair. Since the passing of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, the family courts have become more adversarial. Should the Minister not admit that the withdrawal of legal aid for so many family cases has caused real unfairness to families?

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

As the hon. Lady will remember, we promised at the time that there would be a review of LASPO and the legal aid provisions, and we have announced the timetable for that review, which has been welcomed, but I agree that we should have a process of constant improvement in helping the victims of domestic violence.

Photo of Ben Howlett Ben Howlett Conservative, Bath

The Government have made huge progress in tackling domestic violence both at home and overseas. However, my surgeries are often filled with people who are suffering or have suffered from domestic violence and who are stuck in the family courts system. They are receiving legal aid, but the situation has caused distress. I know the Minister has personally looked into these issues, but will he meet me, hopefully after 8 June, to discuss them further?

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I would never take the electorate for granted, but if I am here, I will meet my hon. Friend.