Divorce court fees set to rise again

Divorce fees will rise by 34 per cent from Monday despite strong opposition from family lawyers.

The increase from £410 to £550 comes after the Ministry of Justice consulted last year on higher court fees across the board as part of a policy to make courts pay their way.

Parliament has approved the rises, but family lawyers only heard yesterday that they would take effect from Monday, and they immediately urged divorcing couples to lodge divorce petitions by the end of this week.

Jo Edwards, the chairwoman of Resolution, the family lawyers’ association, said: “The stealthy implementation of the hike in divorce fees, from £410 to £550 (after an increase only two years ago) is scandalous and not backed up by proper impact assessment.

“As a result of the steep increase, many people currently in the process of separating will have received incorrect information as to the charge for lodging a divorce petition and, in reality, won’t have time to get their petition in before the fee increase takes effect.”

The actual cost of the administrative process has been shown to be £270, meaning that at new rates the Ministry of Justice is making a profit of more than 100% – in effect, levying a divorce tax.



Ministers lose bid to deny legal aid to domestic violence victims

Victims of domestic violence are being unlawfully denied legal aid, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

In a significant setback for ministers, the appeal judges said that government changes to the rules for obtaining legal aid in domestic violence cases were legally flawed.

The rules on evidence, introduced by the government as part of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), have prevented victims of domestic abuse from getting legal aid for family cases, even when it is clear there has been violence, or there is an ongoing risk of violence

The ruling is a victory for the campaign group Rights of Women, which appealed against a High Court judgment that large numbers of victims were unlawfully excluded from obtaining funding because of the changes. They said that as a result, women who had endured rape and beatings were unfairly forced to “face their abuser in court” without legal representation.

The judges ruled the changes invalid because they require verifications of domestic violence to be given within a 24-month period before any application for legal aid. They also ruled that the changes were flawed because they excluded from legal aid victims of domestic violence who had suffered financial abuse.

Emma Scott, the director of Rights of Women, said: “Our research has consistently shown that nearly half of women affected by domestic violence do not have the required forms of evidence to apply for family law legal aid and that more than half of those women tell us they take no legal action as a result. This leaves them at risk of further violence and even death”.

For nearly three years we know that the strict evidence requirements for legal aid have cut too many women off from the very family law remedies that could keep them and their children safe. Today’s judgement is important recognition of women’s real life experiences of domestic violence and means that more women affected by violence will have access to advice and representation in the family courts”.


Jeremy Corbyn presses for review of legal aid cuts

Ministers urgently need to review the “disastrous” consequences of recent cuts to legal aid eligibility, the Labour leader has said.

Jeremy Corbyn has described legal aid as “the forgotten pillar of the welfare state” and has called on the government to assess the impact the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.

Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader and the MP for Islington, said: “It is time to challenge that perception. Access to justice should be considered a fundamental right for all. But that right has been eroded with severe consequences for many of our fellow citizens.”

Corbyn also attacked the government for having “stripped away security in social housing and made the benefits system more punitive” resulting in “the poorest and most marginalised … unable to receive basic advice or representation when they face legal problems. Likewise the deeply concerning rise in unsecured personal debt means many low-paid workers are struggling with unsustainable problems that require support and legal advice.”



Court of Appeal hears challenge over domestic violence legal aid

A hearing has begun at The Court of Appeal which aims to challenge the government changes to legal aid for victims of domestic violence.

The hearing comes a year after the High Court rejected a legal challenge from domestic violence charity Rights of Women over the lawfulness of rules that require domestic violence victims to provide a prescribed form of evidence to apply for family law legal aid.

Some of the forms of evidence are subject to a 24-month time limit, despite the fact that perpetrators may remain a lifelong threat.

According to a new survey from Rights of Women:

  • 53% of respondents took no action in relation to their family law problem as a result of not being able to apply for legal aid.
  • More than a third of respondents who had experienced or were experiencing domestic violence did not have the prescribed forms of evidence to access family law legal aid.
  • More than a fifth of women responding would have had one or more of the prescribed forms of evidence if the two-year time limit on those forms of evidence was not in place.

Rights of Women director Emma Scott said: ‘We continue this legal action on behalf of those women in order to hold the government to account on their promise to make family law legal aid available to victims of domestic violence.’

Here at The Family Law Practice believe the normal difficulties and stresses that come with Family Court proceedings are often greater when one party has been a victim of domestic violence. Therefore it is so important that there are provisions in place which ensure that victims of domestic violence can access advice and legal aid whenever they need it.

Domestic abuse

Domestic abusers who subject victims to controlling or coercive behaviour could face up to five years in jail under a law that came into force on 29th December 2015.

According to the Crown Prosecution Service, the legislation will mean that prosecutors can now pursue specific offences of domestic abuse if there is evidence of repeated, or continuous, controlling or coercive behaviour. That abuse could include a pattern of threats, humiliation and intimidation, or behaviour such as stopping a partner socialising, controlling social media accounts, surveillance through apps and dictating what a person can wear.

Controlling or coercive behaviour causes someone either to fear that violence will be used against them on at least two occasions, or serious alarm or distress, which has a substantial effect on their usual day-to-day activities.