SBS urges all those who work on violence against women issues to respond to the call (see below) for evidence on the impact of the legal aid cuts on women’s access to justice. Access to justice is one of the most pressing issues facing front line services that work on gender based violence issues. We must do all we can to reverse the devastating legal aid cuts which breach a range of international human rights standards on discrimination against women. Without evidence we cannot hold the British government to account. We would particularly like to hear from BME women and BME women’s organisations. If you prefer, you can also send your evidence directly to SBS at: [email protected]
Many of you will remember when a large delegation of us (including our own Cris McCurley) went from the North East to the United Nations to the CEDAW Investigation against the UK Government. That hearing resulted in findings against the Government, not surprisingly, for being in breach of CEDAW Article 15, Access to Justice for Women.
The CEDAW Commissioners were very critical of the Government and their policy of requiring victims of violence against women to provide proof that they are genuine victims before they can get Legal Aid and access to justice. The Government was directed to change the evidence requirements. In particular they were directed to end the policy by which women have to pay for their evidence, and there was a general requirement that all victims of violence against women should automatically receive access to justice, with Legal Aid being provided where they were financially eligible.
The Government was given 24 months (this seems like a long time but this is to cover a situation where primary legislation is required to effect the changes required by the UN) to bring about the changes requested. So far the only thing that has been done is a couple of very minor tweaks to Legal Aid requirements, namely a front line domestic violence service can now provide evidence directly where a woman has been referred to this service by her GP. No evidence of referral from the GP is required, but the incident of violence has to have occurred in the last 24 months.
At the moment the CEDAW working party is preparing the shadow report for the UN about how effective the changes that the Government has put in place have been in meeting the directives that they were given to increase access to justice by the UN.
You can help. Please can you keep a record of women that you work with who have been unable to obtain domestic violence evidence. There will be a form to download from the Woman’s Resource Centre website. The links are:
Please return these to: [email protected]
Without your help, we will be unable to provide the statistical evidence that we need to disprove the Government’s claim that all genuine victims of violence against women are able to access Legal Aid.
Please also let us have your comments about what you think about the availability of Legal Aid to enable women, victims of violence from partners.