Great news people! We are out of a recession! Surely the worst is over?
Not so fast I’m afraid. Whilst I hate to be the pessimist, these cuts are having a disproportionate impact on ordinary women here in Bristol. Huge restrictions and cuts to legal aid that was brought in last year has resulted in a rise in self-representation – that is, people being unable to afford a lawyer and turning up to court to defend themselves.
This change to the provisions of legal aid has removed almost all private family law areas from its scope. What does this mean? That the ability to get legal support for domestic violence is much harder for one. Not that it has become unavailable, but new rules mean that it is more difficult to apply for legal aid – the Rights of Women and Women’s Aid found that 43% of victims were unable to provide the right documents to even meet with a solicitor in the first place.
Further, the number of parents now representing themselves before family courts has jumped by 20,000. Over half of this rise were made up of women, and many of these, according the Independent were mothers from poor backgrounds. Yet again, we hear that it is our low-income mothers bearing the brunt of the budget cuts. The situation has deteriorated so much that according to the Independent, in 2013/14, more mothers appeared in court without a lawyer than with one.
And for those who are in employment, but suffering from discrimination, the increase in fees to take an employer to a tribunal has caused a 70 per cent drop in cases.
Surely then, this lack of legal support starts to damage the law? With justice only available to those who can afford it, it becomes less about justice and more about the person with the bigger purse strings.
Sian Webb Co-Editor @SianKWebb