The Bar Council is calling on ministers to make non-means tested legal aid available in all domestic abuse cases. If someone has a disposable income exceeding £733 per month or capital of over £8,000, they will be unable to access public funded legal advice in most circumstances.
The barristers’ representative group has made this recommendation against the backdrop of concerns over domestic abuse in the pandemic, citing Women’s Aid, who have called Covid-19 a ‘perfect storm’ that can ‘threaten to escalate abuse’ and the UN who have described domestic abuse as a ‘shadow pandemic’.
The Bar Council draws on figures released by the Ministry of Justice which show that there has been a reduction in legal aid expenditure on domestic abuse cases of 51% between 2008/09 and 2019/20.
Research completed by Solace Woman’s Aid found that in 2019, 30% of women seeking shelter from domestic abuse were turned away six or more times. Those who received assistance from a caseworker or solicitor were twice as likely to be housed by a local authority.
The Bar Council makes this recommendation ahead of the Domestic Abuse Bill’s return to the commons. The Bill, which has been widely criticised for excluding migrant women, is expected to reach Royal Assent in Spring 2021.