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29 February 2016

Law in action – victory for survivors of domestic violence

Sarah Cooke OBE
The recent Court of Appeal ruling on access to legal aid for domestic violence survivors is crucial in enabling people to escape from abusive relationships.
Strengthening Civil Society

The recent Court of Appeal ruling on access to legal aid for domestic violence survivors is going to be crucial in enabling people to escape from abusive relationships, protect their children and manage their finances. The judgement will help achieve access to justice that is otherwise too often denied.

Major reforms to the civil legal aid scheme in 2013 meant that in domestic abuse cases, very specific evidence was needed to prove eligibility for legal aid. Such evidence was often difficult to get and in many cases was subject to a 24 month time limit. The Court of Appeal has ruled that these evidence requirements which have prevented survivors of domestic abuse from getting legal aid are unlawful.

The case was brought by the Public Law Project on behalf of the charity Rights of Women. Both are organisations that have been supported by the Baring Foundation under its Strengthening the Voluntary Sector Programme. In 2015 two new funds were launched under this programme in collaboration with the Legal Education Foundation; the grantees are shown here under grants awarded.  The primary objective is to support effective use of the law and human rights by the voluntary sector in the UK to tackle directly the discrimination and disadvantage faced by vulnerable people. This legal action is a great example of how the voluntary sector can do just this and underscores the value and importance in supporting them to do so.

By assisting organisations such as those bringing this landmark case we aim to help create and protect the space in which voluntary organisations operate, helping to safeguard the freedom of purpose, action and voice of the sector as a whole. The overarching aim of the current funds is to support the wider voluntary sector to engage with the law and human rights and deepen understanding about the broad range of tools based on the law and human rights that can be used to achieve better outcomes for vulnerable people. We look forward to seeing how the projects we are currently supporting work towards this and start to build a much needed knowledge base of what works, why and how, to develop over the coming years.

Sarah Cooke, OBE

Views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of the Baring Foundation