Can I Still Get Family Legal Aid?
Following the introduction of the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 there has been a lot of publicity and comment some of which could be misunderstood to indicate that legal aid will no longer be available in family cases from 1 April 2013.
Whilst there have been significant changes to legal aid it still covers certain proceedings.
- Public family law cases regarding the protection of children including care proceedings, pre-proceedings advice.
- Private family law proceedings such as contact and residence disputes where there is evidence of domestic violence.
- Private law children cases where there is evidence of child abuse
- Foreign Child Abduction matters
- Representation of child parties in private family law cases
- Legal advice in support of mediation
- Domestic Violence Injunction
- Cases for Non Molestation and Occupation Orders
- Forced Marriage Protection Order cases
It is very important to be aware that divorce, dissolution of civil partnerships, financial and children matters are eligible for legal aid only if the client can produce evidence of domestic violence or child abuse.
If that evidence does not exist or cannot be provided, legal aid will not be available.
The evidence of domestic abuse is complicated and needs to be provided before the legal help can be made available.
Legal aid is only available to the victim of domestic abuse, not the perpetrator and so it will often be the case that only one party can be represented by a Solicitor.
The firm cannot grant legal help, nor apply for a Legal Aid Certificate for private family law services without one of the following:-
- the Opponent having a relevant unspent conviction for a domestic violence offence
- the Opponent having a relevant police caution for a domestic violence offence given within a twenty four month period immediately preceding the date of the application for civil legal services.
- evidence of relevant criminal proceedings against the Opponent for a domestic violence offence which has not ended.
- a relevant protective injunction against the Opponent which is in force or which was granted within a twenty four month period immediately preceding the date of the application for civil legal services.
- an undertaking given in England and Wales under the Family Law Act subject to certain conditions.
- a letter from a person appointed to chair a MARAC confirming that the Applicant was referred to the conference as a high risk victim of domestic violence which again, needs to be within a twenty four month period.
- a copy of a finding of fact made in proceedings in the United Kingdom again, subject to the twenty four month rule.
- a letter or report from a health professional subject to certain conditions.
- a letter from a Social Services department in England or Wales or its equivalent in Scotland or Northern Ireland, again within a twenty four month period with conditions.
- a report from domestic violence support organisation, again subject to a twenty four month rule providing certain information.
Alternatively, evidence that children are at risk which needs to be provided in similar circumstances to the above.
As can be seen, there is very strict criteria but it does not mean that legal aid cannot be obtained.
In most circumstances the Applicant will need to obtain the evidence prior to making the appointment with the Solicitor. However, once that evidence has been obtained advice can be provided very quickly.
In addition the rules regarding financial eligibility for legal aid have been tightened up and financial information will need to be available in time for the first appointment.
The message is if you are the victim or potential victim of domestic violence/abuse or your children are at risk of abuse seek legal advice and do not delay.
Stephens Scown, Solicitors in Exeter, www.stephens-scown.co.uk, offer personal, business and specialist legal advice.