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Family Solicitors

Harsh Reality of Legal Aid Cuts: Rape victim forced to represent herself in court (18 June 2018)

Date: 18/06/2018
Duncan Lewis, Family Solicitors, Harsh Reality of Legal Aid Cuts: Rape victim forced to represent herself in court

In this recent case, care proceedings had been brought to decide whether the father should have contact with his daughter after the mother had accused him of sexual assault.

Both the Applicant mother and Respondent father were deemed ineligible to receive legal aid and could not afford a solicitor, so they appeared in the Family Court in Middlesbrough without professional legal representation.

The difficulty then lies in the sensitive nature of the matter.

District Judge Simon Read dealt with this by questioning each party, rather than asking them to cross-examine each other. He warned that in cases brought with parties appearing in person posed a greater risk of miscarriage of justice.

The mother became extremely distressed during the course of the proceedings and had to leave the court room when the topic reverted to the allegations of rape.

Not only does this situation prolong matters unduly, there is a high chance that victims of abuse will be re-traumatised by facing their alleged abuser in court.

In his ruling, the Judge found some of the allegations to have merit and found the Respondent guilty of assault against the mother and an elder son. However, because of the nature of the hearing, the Judge could not reasonably find him guilty of rape, sexual assault or abuse because he lacked a thorough explanation of the history of the case.

In legal matters it is vital that an advocate prepares the case thoroughly to ensure a Judge is able to accurately interpret the case and follow the correct lines of inquiry. By instructing a solicitor, each party would have had their case prepared, informed by all relevant law and carefully constructed to ensure the best chance of success.

Due to Legal Aid cuts, brought about by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, many people live in ‘legal aid deserts’, meaning that despite being eligible for legal aid, people may not have access to a local law firm.

Duncan Lewis is the largest UK provider of legal aid servicing clients in 14 key offices and approximately 35 serviced offices nationwide available for bookings, meaning our family solicitors are able to meet clients in their local vicinity or deal with their matter remotely.

It is District Judge Simon Read’s opinion that were both parties represented by professional family law solicitors, the outcome of the fact finding hearing could have been more accurately representative of the case.

Ravi Kaur Mahey, Director of Family and Childcare at Duncan Lewis, reminds that there are many important factors which are difficult to prove in family cases where allegations of sexual and physical assault are brought against a Respondent in relation to care proceedings.

“This case is another example of how the egregious cuts implemented in 2012 have left vulnerable victims of domestic abuse to assume responsibility for their circumstances. This victim was failed by the system when she needed its support the most.

“This case highlights the need for all victims of domestic abuse to have legal aid and third party representation. The psychological and emotional process in such circumstances is often more debilitating than physical abuse – and harder to prove. “

Ravi has particular expertise acting for victims of domestic abuse where there have been serious allegations of sexual, physical and psychological abuse. Her broad practice includes representing parents and young people in care proceedings involving a range of issues, including drug and alcohol misuse, violence, chronic neglect, mental health difficulties or mental incapacity and learning difficulties. She has acted in a number of cases involving applications by the Local Authority for a young person to be placed in Secure Accommodation and applications for Emergency Protection Orders.

Ravi has also been involved in complex medical cases involving allegations of ‘baby shaking’, non-accidental injuries, FGM, attempted murder and factitious illness syndrome.

Contact Ravi on 020 3114 1102 or via email on ravim@duncanlewis.com.

Duncan Lewis Family Solicitors

Headed by 19 Director Solicitors, and boasting over 51 Law Society Family & Childcare Panel Specialists, the Duncan Lewis Family & Childcare department are specialists in all aspects of family and private/public children law matters from offices across London and throughout the UK.

Recognised by Legal 500 2017, the team holds a niche practice in representing victims of domestic abuse and is significantly experienced in complex financial matrimonial matters (ancillary relief) relating to the breakdown of a marriage/relationship.

With a broad practice representing parents, family members and children through their guardian in all children public law proceedings and conducting cases on behalf of the official solicitor. The Duncan Lewis’ Family & Childcare team are also specialists in high profile international child abduction cases, with an extensive practice in inherent jurisdiction/forum disputes, international relocation cases and wardship proceedings for the return of children. We are one of only a small number of firms throughout the UK that is on the Lord Chancellor’s International Child Abduction & Contact Panel (ICACU), which is responsible for administering Hague Convention (Child Abduction) proceedings work in England.

Since 2013, Duncan Lewis has an established Islamic & Sharia Law team which specialises in Islamic Divorce, Islamic Financial Settlement & Mahr Claims under English Law.

To speak to a specialist family/ childcare solicitor call Duncan Lewis on 0333 772 0409.

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