The Guardian recently reported that proposals to cut legal aid in the UK are likely to have a greater impact on women, according to the Ministry of Justice’s own equality impact assessments.
Take family cases, like disputes about contact and residence of children; injunctions against ex-partners; the division of financial assets; applications for maintenance; and divorce. The proposals mean that legal aid will be restricted to cases where forced marriage, international child abduction or domestic violence is proven. According to the Guardian, ‘domestic violence’ for these purposes will only include physical violence, not psychological abuse. They report that the Ministry of Justice believed it had to ‘…restrict the definition of domestic violence to one that could be demonstrated through “clear, objective evidence”.’
Another of the most worrying proposals is complete removal of legal aid from education cases, including those where – say – a disabled child has been incorrectly assessed for support, or has been refused admission to a school. The factors they list in support of this removal are that the importance of the issues is relatively low – “some financial claims; some issues arise from personal choices, e.g. conduct at school” and that people can represent themselves because the tribunals are “accessible to lay people”.
And note that – from what I can tell – withdrawal of legal aid doesn’t just mean no representation, it means no right to legal aid in getting advice, either.