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Legal Aid Means Test Review: Domestic Abuse Victims

Volume 735: debated on Tuesday 27 June 2023

2. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of the legal aid means test review on access to legal aid for victims of domestic abuse. (905632)

We are determined to ensure that domestic abuse victims secure access to justice and the protection of the law. The changes we are making to the legal aid means test mean that more than 2 million more people in England and Wales will be eligible for civil legal aid each year. Domestic abuse victims in receipt of universal credit will not be means-tested when applying for protective orders, effectively fast-tracking access to legal support and the protection of the courts.

I welcome the new policy, which means that domestic abuse victims who cannot access joint assets controlled by their abuser will no longer have those disputed assets counted towards their eligibility for legal aid. Does the Lord Chancellor agree that this will help to secure access to justice for survivors when their abusers try to continue to control them after they have split?

I agree wholeheartedly. My hon. Friend puts it well. Disputed assets such as the family home are by their nature illiquid and inaccessible. Worse still, they may be controlled by the abuser. By ensuring that those assets are not taken into account when deciding whether to grant legal aid, we are helping to ensure that victims of DA can access that vital legal support and, with it, the essential protection of the courts.

Extending legal aid eligibility to 2 million extra people is great, but eligibility is not the same as access to legal aid services, which have been collapsing in the last 18 months. We have seen a 20% reduction in housing legal aid providers, 21% less mental health support, 27% less welfare support and 30% less immigration and asylum support. There is a crisis in access to fair justice. What is the Secretary of State doing about that?

I am delighted to say that we are expanding access to legal aid to more than 6 million more people in total. Let me pay tribute to legal aid lawyers, who have an exceptionally important role in ensuring that individuals have access to justice. What we will not do on the Government Benches is demonise legal aid lawyers. I was in practice as a legal aid lawyer. Charlie Falconer has admitted that he regrets that the Labour Government demonised “fat cat” lawyers. It was not true then, and it is not true now. We will support legal aid lawyers.