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Legal Aid (Victims of Domestic Violence)

Volume 542: debated on Tuesday 13 March 2012

14. What recent assessment he has made of the potential effect of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill on victims of domestic violence. (99270)

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill is designed to protect victims of domestic violence. It protects funding for advice and representation in private family matters for victims of domestic violence, as well as public funding in respect of protection orders for victims of domestic violence. We will also continue to waive financial eligibility limits in these cases.

I thank the Minister for that response, but he will be aware that when the matter was debated in another place, serious concerns were raised that genuine victims of domestic violence would not receive the legal aid support and ability to take action that they need, because of the legislation that the Government are bringing through. Organisations such as Refuge have expressed similar concerns. Will the Minister assure us that all victims of domestic violence will receive the help and support they need?

Again, the Government were disappointed by the position taken by the Lords and will return to the matter when the Bill comes back to the Commons. We are very concerned about the victims of domestic violence. Indeed, it was because we are removing legal aid for private family law that we realised there will be certain categories, such as domestic violence, that will not be suitable for mediation, which is why we are concentrating on that area.

It is widely recognised that specialist domestic violence courts have been very successful, but 23 of them are due to close. Will the Minister assure me that the expertise and multi-agency working that have been a feature of their success will continue in this changed landscape?

It is important to point out that those specialist domestic violence courts are closing not because of what they do, but because the courts in which they are based are closing. I am pleased to say that those specialist courts will be moving to other courts, so no specialist domestic violence courts will be lost.