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Third of domestic violence victims cannot provide evidence for legal aid

A parliamentary watchdog has revealed that more than a third of domestic violence victims cannot provide the evidence required to obtain legal aid. Without support from a lawyer, victims find it hard to leave abusive partners, are exposed to intimidation and may have to confront attackers in court if left unrepresented, the justice select committee warned on Thursday. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act withdrew legal aid for family law cases except for those who provide evidence of domestic violence in the previous two years. Evidence can consist of a conviction, police caution, protective injunction, letter from a health professional, residence in a refuge and other categories of information. Bhatia Best continues to offer legal aid where available....

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Dale Vince ex-wife wins divorce cash battle

A woman has won a landmark Supreme Court bid to claim cash from her ex-husband 20 years after they divorced. Judges had initially blocked her claim after Mr Vince argued he had made his wealth after their relationship ended and she had made her application too late.Kathleen Wyatt, of Monmouthshire, applied for maintenance from former husband, Dale Vince founder of wind-power firm Ecotricity, in 2011. But five judges at the Supreme Court today overturned the decision and said her application should now be assessed in the family division of the High Court.  Delivering the ruling, Lord Wilson said the court must have regard "to the contribution of each party to the welfare of the family, including by looking after the home or...

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New drug-driving law comes into force today

New “drug-driving” laws come into force today which give police powers to catch motorists driving under the influence of drugs. Police now have the power to use “drugalysers” to screen for various drugs including cannabis and cocaine. In addition, officers can also test for ecstasy, LSD, ketamine and heroin once at the police station – even if a driver passes the roadside check. The new drug-drive law sets limits at very low levels – bordering on ‘zero tolerance’ – for eight illegal drugs such as cannabis and cocaine. The tough legislation, covering illegal and prescription drugs, means motorists could face being arrested, receiving hefty fines and getting criminal records. Today the drug driving specified limits for England and Wales regulations...

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Bhatia Best Pass Quality Audit with Flying Colours

Bhatia Best undertook their Specialist Quality Mark Audit commencing Monday 2 February 2015 for a three day period. The Quality Mark is a prerequisite for legal firms to operate in a publicly funded market. All areas of the practice’s legal aid work were audited, including crime, family and public law. The audit was particularly important at this present time as the Specialist Quality Mark standard or Lexcel is a prerequisite for an application for duty solicitor contracts in the future. David Clegg, Senior Auditor for the SQM Partnership commented that this was “the best audit he had ever undertaken”. Bhatia Best passed the audit without the auditor identifying any critical, general or minor concerns at any of their three offices...

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Labour would halt plans to slash on-call legal aid solicitors

The Labour Party would reverse coalition plans to slash the number of on-call, legal aid solicitors attending police stations and magistrates’ courts, the party will say on Friday. Sadiq Khan, the shadow justice secretary, pledged to launch an immediate review of the coalition’s proposed 8.75% fee cuts and to work with the legal profession to find alternative savings. The new two-tier contracts for criminal legal aid – due to reduce from 1,600 to 527 in England and Wales from next summer - are already the subject of a judicial review. Khan hopes to find additional resources by cooperating with the Law Society, which says the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, has declined to take up its offers of making economies elsewhere in the justice...

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Judges rule legal aid guidance on exceptional cases ‘unlawful’

Guidance on who is eligible for legal aid in exceptional cases is "unlawful", judges have ruled. Legal aid was removed from many areas of civil law as part of reforms introduced last year. The High Court had said the guidelines on who was still eligible were "too restrictive" and overturned refusals of legal aid in six immigration cases. The government appealed against that decision but Court of Appeal judges have now upheld the original ruling. Ruling on the guidance, Lord Dyson said: "It correctly identifies many of the factors that should be taken into account in deciding whether to grant exceptional funding, but it neutralises their effect by wrongly stating that the threshold for funding is very high and that...

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Legal Aid cuts leaving domestic violence without legal help

Since the Ministry of Justice started cutting legal aid, many people who need help found themselves left outside in the cold to fend for themselves. Women who have suffered domestic violence have gone to a solicitors and discovered that, even though they are financially eligible, they do not have the appropriate 'evidence' of their abuse to qualify for free legal representation. One victim told women's charity Rights of Women, whose survey of domestic violence victims trying to access legal aid was published this morning: "The law leaves me in a situation where my ex can come round when he wants to - text me, phone me - and as long as he doesn't swear, make threats or hit me I...

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Legal aid slashed with no thought for consequences, MoJ chief admits

The most senior civil servant at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has admitted that over £300m is being slashed from the legal aid bill without research into the potential effect of the cuts. Under the cuts pushed through by the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, many family, debt, housing and employment cases no longer qualify for legal aid. Ursula Brennan, the MoJ’s permanent secretary said “the Government was explicit it needed to make these changes swiftly. It was not possible to do research about the current regime.” The National Audit Office has criticised the MoJ for not considering the effect of such rapid cuts on other areas of public spending.

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Legal Aid Lawyers are ‘a dying breed’

Extensive research undertaken by the Law Society's Junior Lawyers Division has found that only four per cent of young lawyers are interested in working in legal aid. The JLD Early Career Work Experience Survey, published today (1 December), uncovered a number of serious challenges faced by people entering the legal profession, and by recruiting law firms. Challenges the research uncovered include: • Only four per cent of young lawyers are interested in legal aid work. • A significant rise in the cost of young solicitors' education following tuition fee increases. • Young lawyers are prioritising short-term earning potential over their long-term career goals in order to pay off debt. • A low rate of new entrants successfully progressing to a...

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Lack of legal aid in child cases soars

The number of family law cases involving children in which neither party has legal representation has nearly doubled in the last year. The National Audit Office found that cases without lawyers can take 50% longer which has the knock-on effect of increasing costs to the taxpayer. The findings come weeks after a senior judge accused the government of washing its hands of the problem it had created by failing to provide legal aid for parents in child custody cases. The report says over 17,000 cases involving contact with children where both parties represented themselves started in the family courts in 2013-14, an increase of 8,110, or 89%, on the previous year. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act...

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