Legal aid cuts will disproportionately affect women

// 30 December 2010

pile of pound coinsCuts to legal aid for people facing issues relating to divorce, housing, employment, immigration, debt and welfare benefits will amount to £600m per year and hit women hardest, according to the government’s own equality impact assessment of the proposal. The Guardian reports that “family law including divorce and child residence cases would no longer be eligible for legal aid other than where domestic violence, forced marriage or international child abduction is proven”. Women make up the majority of legal aid claimants in family law cases, which is no surprise considering they are more likely to earn less than men.

Women’s rights groups are particulalry concerned that psychological abuse will not be recognised as domestic violence for the purposes of legal aid, leaving already vulnerable individuals – the majority of whom are women – without the financial support they may need to divorce abusive partners.

Disabled people and ethnic minorities, who again are more likely to live in poverty, will also be disproportionately affected by the cuts.

But remember, girls and boys, it’s all in the name of fairness!

Image by hitthatswitch, shared under a Creative Commons licence.

Comments From You

Jennifer Drew // Posted 30 December 2010 at 2:12 pm

A spokesperson from Ministry of Justice claimed they have had to restrict the definition of ‘domestic violence’ which is a euphemism for intimate male violence against female/ex-female partners, by saying definition of “domestic violence”has to be demonstrated through ‘clear, objective evidence.’ Such evidence is of course, viewed through the white male-centric lens and women’s experiences of intimate male violence which do not fall within the category of ‘actual physical harm’ continues to be discounted as ‘not clear objective evidence.’

Women in fact are located within all ethnic groups and disabled groups – we are not a ‘specialist group’ but form the majority of the UK population and yet we continue to be viewed as just ‘another specialist minority group.’

Fairness?? Hardly unless one views the dominant male supremacist system as being ‘fair’ in that it continues to accord men as a group greater socio-economic power and rights than the majority of population – namely women.

Laura // Posted 30 December 2010 at 2:31 pm

@ Jennifer Drew – I agree “domestic violence” is somewhat euphemistic, but it is not only perpetrated by men against women, and we don;t do anyone any favours by claiming it is.

Sheila // Posted 30 December 2010 at 4:59 pm

The other issue is even with proof of physical violence by your husband against you such as GPs reports as I had, would you really want to incur the costs if you knew there was a risk you wouldn’t get legal aid. Solicitors frequently advise their female clients to allege the minimum violence necessary to get an unreasonable behaviour divorce, rather than cite the whole extent of the violence. This agreed level of violence is then used by agencies such as social services as the benchmark for assessing how much violence really took place.

Barry // Posted 1 January 2011 at 2:09 pm

Solicitors have a lot to answer for. Like a salesman who works on commission having a vested interest so to Solicitors can have a conflict of interest. Sorry, I feel that there should be an organization that advises women as to whether their Solicitor is working in the best interest of the women claiming legal aid.

DE // Posted 1 January 2011 at 2:47 pm

@Sheila

I’m a family solicitor and have advised many a client on divorce. (I had thought you were a solicitor/ lawyer too – but on the basis of what you’ve written above, maybe family law is not your area.)

Firstly, a Petitioner in divorce proceedings would not need to file any medical evidence – if the divorce is undefended – and they invariably are – Solicitors can go their entire career without encountering a defended one. Even then, the copies of your medical records you required would cost about £50 ( I’ve request medical records for other kinds of cases.)

Next, It is not true that solicitors advise clients to set down a minimum level of violence as to unreasonable behaviour in their divorce petition. I draft my own and see many that are drafted by other solicitors when I’m for the Respondent. Typically, the petition would state something along the lines of …

“The Respondent has a violent nature. The Respondent has a long history of violent assaults upon the Petitioner. The last assault took place on the 25 December 2010. The Respondent provoked an argument with the Petitioner which culminated in the Respondent seriously assaulting the Petitioner by [insert details of assault]. As a result the Petitioner required urgent medical attention.

The Petitioner believes therefore that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.

This does not minimise the violence, but merely summarise it. Not the same thing at all.

Next, there is not an ‘agreed’ level of anything – simply an ‘unchallenged’ level. Typically the Respondent would state in their acknowledgement, that although the petition is not defended the allegation are not admitted.

Lastly, I’ve never heard of a case where Social Services or other agencies ever have sight of the contents of a divorce petition. If a fuller account of the violence is required then further enquiries /statements can be undertaken .

amy // Posted 2 January 2011 at 1:41 pm

jennifer drew i agree with everything you wrote.

Lisa Ansell // Posted 3 January 2011 at 7:03 pm

Hi- I wanted to add a few things. First of all the biggest risk with the legal aid cuts are not about violence- they are about money. You will still get legal aid where violence is an issue- and I agree with the man who wrote above about proceedings.

As social worker- you would be unlikely to be involved in actual divorce petition, however Guardians may be asked to conduct assessments to help the court make decisions about issues regarding the children.

When you leave your husband, if you are the person who earned least- the bulk of your legal costs are about getting your financial settlement. About proving your claim to matrimonial home, about the need for splitting assets fairly- about recognising the contribution you made during the marriage-even if it wasnt financial.

The legal aid cut is disastrous for women because it comes in the context of many of other policies.

Firstly state support for mothers is being drastically withdrawn- childcare elements of tax credits and housing benefit which allow many women to work and meet their living costs have been cut. There is no appeal for this- this is social policy and has ensured that for many women working will no longer pay the bills without financial contribution from their exes.

Legal aid being slashed directly harms womens ability to do this.

In addition the slashing of legal aid is going to hurt women dealing with poor treatment from employers-many tribunals that should be about discrimination are not fought on these grounds and women will no longer have access to legal aid to support them challenging inequality.

If state subsidy is withdrawn, while the means by which you access your assets from marriage are withdrawn, and at the same time your ability to challenge poor treatment at work are withdrawn- you end up with a very grim picture.

I have said this repeatedly- but the sum total of the policies this coalition have brought in- have been to ensure that the choice is marriage or poverty- because they have shut down almost every means of getting out of poverty for motehrs with young children- bar marriage. It is this which will hurt.

THe sum total of these policies is that women with young children, unless earning way outside what would be expected- are now financially -dependent on their partners=with no means of escaping that dependence.

This is very frightening. And needs discussing as is having real effects right now.

Unless people start looking at these policies together and their cumulative effect- women are screwed from now on. And this is a worry for ALL women not just those with young children.

coldharbour // Posted 5 January 2011 at 4:32 pm

“jennifer drew i agree with everything you wrote.”

@Amy

Like invisibilising the victims of domestic violence based on their gender identity ?

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