Refuges, legal aid and domestic abuse: The last week in family law

Housing benefit will be kept in place for all those living in supported housing, the Government has announced. Supported housing provides a home to some of the most vulnerable people in society, including refuges for those fleeing domestic violence. Last year the Government published proposals on new ways of funding supported housing, which it was feared would force many domestic abuse refuges to close. However, the Government has now decided that housing benefit will remain in place to fund such accommodation. Justin Tomlinson, Minister for Family Support, Housing and Child Maintenance, said: “We are committed to ensuring that vulnerable people have access to the supported housing they need to live safely and independently. We value the expertise of stakeholders and have listened carefully to their concerns during the consultation. As a result we will continue to pay housing benefit for all supported housing –making sure safe homes are provided for those that need it most.”

The Legal Services Board, which is responsible for overseeing the regulation of lawyers in England and Wales, has published its written submission to the Ministry of Justice’s post-implementation review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (‘LASPO’), which abolished legal aid for most private law family matters. Chair of the Legal Services Board Dr Helen Phillips said: “I am pleased that we have this opportunity to contribute to the post-implementation review of LASPO. Our response contributes our evidence base to this first review of changes to the provision of legal aid in England and Wales. What we say is evidenced by our in-depth research into the legal services market. Our research shows that, in recent years, a growing proportion of individuals are handling their legal problems alone and that a declining proportion are seeking advice. Actual or perceived costs have come to the fore as a key factor in determining what action people take when faced with a legal problem. It has become clear that individuals whose finances are stretched, but not severely enough to qualify for legal aid, are the least likely to use a lawyer. Reductions in legal aid carry the risk of increasing the number of these ‘stretched consumers’. We think it is important to look at what has happened to consumers who are no longer able to access legal aid following the reforms. Research suggests that changes in legal aid may have disproportionately affected certain groups of people such as particular ethnic groups and those from the [three lower] social groups. We are also concerned about whether the reforms may have had knock-on effects elsewhere in the justice system and also more broadly in other areas of public spending such as health.”

The latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for July 2018, have been published by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (‘Cafcass’), the organisation that represents children in family court cases. In that month the service received a total of 1,224 new care applications. This figure is 1.8 per cent lower than July 2017. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 3,768 new private law cases. This is 4.2 per cent higher than July 2017, when there were 3,617 cases, and the highest monthly figure since October 2017.

And finally, scapegoating football as a trigger for domestic violence trivialises the issue and risks offering offenders an excuse for their behaviour, according to a UK study. Reports linking a spike in cases with the outcome of Old Firm games and England’s World Cup performance lack reliable data and fail to recognise abuse is a pattern of ongoing behaviour. The findings are included in the first in-depth study of the perceived link between football and domestic violence and abuse (‘DVA’), from the point of view of survivors, police, specialist support groups, football authorities, government organisations and policymakers, in Scotland and England. Previous studies have over-simplified the issue and discount a range of factors, including increased policing on match days, the large number of men who watch and support the sport, and different recording practices between police forces, researchers from Glasgow Caledonian University, the University of Glasgow and the University of Bristol heard. Dr Nancy Lombard, Reader in Sociology and Social Policy at Glasgow Caledonian University, said: “All stakeholders had concerns about the reliability and implications of data suggesting a causal link between football and domestic violence and abuse. Participants highlighted concerns about the existing evidence and the need to view violence and abuse as a pattern of ongoing behaviour, which cannot be reduced to an incident associated with a particular event such as a football match. Specialist DVA service providers were concerned that focusing on football masks the underlying causes and potentially offers perpetrators excuses for their abusive behaviour. Research which suggests potential links between DVA and factors such as football or alcohol has proliferated, and links between them may be misinterpreted, misrepresented and misunderstood.”