Legal Aid cuts and Domestic Violence – where is the campaign?
by Liz Rawlings
Most people will know by now that I’m proud to be a feminist. It’s just a no-brainer for me. I believe in a fair and just society, and I don’t believe we’ll achieve that until we tackle gender (in)equality. Phrasing it in this way is, of course simplistic – social and gender justice are inextricably linked – one won’t necessarily lead on from the other in a linear way. The two concepts are entwined, tangled – messy, even and as such, it’s hard to separate them. But for me, gender justice seems a good place to start in building a better society.
For the most part, I’m overawed by the work key feminist groups are doing. It’s not hard for me to get involved in campaigns on equal pay, ending violence against women, and against cuts, which will disproportionately affect women – when there are such comprehensive and effective campaigning organisations out there that support people to join their cause. The national Reclaim the Night marches demanding an end to violence against women, and the fantastic Fawcett society campaigns on women’s rights, are two key examples.
However, in the last couple of week’s I’ve become genuinely surprised (and disappointed) at the lack of political momentum to stop the Government’s proposed cuts to Legal Aid. The Bill is being debated in Parliament over the next couple of days and, if passed, will cut over £350m from the Legal Aid budget. This could have disastrous effects for victims of domestic violence; it means only victims who can prove a ‘high risk of violence’ will qualify for assistance. Proving sexual or psychological abuse is notoriously difficult, and as such, women will be forced to stay in abusive relationships, because they can’t access legal aid.
As if these cuts aren’t bad enough, their ‘justification’ is downright shocking. Speaking about the cuts, justice minister Jonathan Djanogly said: “we need to have objective evidence of domestic violence to target taxpayers’ money on genuine cases”. What exactly does he mean by ‘objective’ evidence? In many domestic violence cases, it is a women’s word against a man’s. The subtext here is, ‘women often lie about domestic violence’. In fact, later on he states this more explicitly, arguing that ‘many people’ are concerned ‘about providing an incentive for unfounded allegations and the government shares this concern’. Well, the National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI), are clear on what sort of ‘objective evidence’ we’ll see if these cuts go ahead; they’re predicting more women will stay in abusive relationships and they’ll be more women killed by violent partners, as well as an increase in suicides.
And yet, where is the political campaign against these cuts? Where are the Opposition parties? Where is the lobby of Parliament? The marches? Do Legal Aid cuts get a mention on the Fawcett society homepage or the popular F-word blog? No – it seems they’ve slipped under the radar.
One website, Sound Off for Justice does tackle the cuts to Legal Aid, and while it doesn’t specifically target the effects the cuts will have on domestic violence victims, it does lay out key arguments defending the notion that justice should be accessible to everyone – as a basic right in a fair society.
You can check it out here – and add your name to the campaign against the Legal Aid cuts. It’s an understated campaign, but don’t underestimate its significance.