Home About Jonathan News Parliament Campaigns Gallery Links Contact

Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill


31st October 2011

Jonathan Djanogly leads a debate on Government amendments to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Jonathan Djanogly): I beg to move amendment 10, page 99, line 11, leave out from ‘where’ to first ‘for’ in line 13 and insert ‘—

(a) the services are provided to the individual, or

(b) the individual has died and the services are provided—

(i) to the individual’s personal representative, or

(ii) ’.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government amendment 11.

Amendment 91, page 103, line 3, after ‘family’, insert ‘or other intimate’.

Amendment 93, page 103, line 4, at end insert

‘or where an allegation is made that B has been abused by A or is at risk of being abused by A’.

Amendment 23, page 103, leave out lines 35 to 38 and insert—

‘“abuse” means any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality.’.

Amendment 92, page 103, line 35, leave out ‘physical or mental abuse’ and insert

‘any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (whether physical, mental, financial or emotional)’.

Amendment 74, page 104, line 23, at end insert—

‘(10) For the purposes of this paragraph, evidence that A has been abused by B or is at risk of being abused by B may consist of one or more of the following (without limitation)—

(a) a relevant court conviction or police caution;

(b) a relevant court order (including without notice, ex parte, interim or final orders) including a non-molestation order, occupation order, forced marriage protection order or other protective injunction;

(c) evidence of relevant criminal proceedings for an offence concerning domestic violence or a police report confirming attendance at an incident resulting from domestic violence;

(d) evidence that a victim has been referred to a Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference (as a high-risk victim of domestic violence) and a plan has been put in place to protect that victim from violence by the other party;

(e) a finding of fact in the family courts of domestic violence by the other party giving rise to the risk of harm to the victim;

(f) a medical report from a doctor at a UK hospital confirming that the applicant has injuries consistent with being a victim of domestic violence, such injuries not being limited to physical injuries;

(g) a letter from a General Medical Council registered general practitioner confirming that he or she has examined the applicant and is satisfied that the applicant had injuries consistent with those of a victim of domestic violence;

(h) an undertaking given to a court that the perpetrator of the abuse will not approach the applicant who is the victim of the abuse;

(i) a letter from a social services department confirming its involvement in connection with domestic violence;

(j) a letter of support or a report from a domestic violence support organisation; or

(k) other well-founded documentary evidence of abuse (such as from a counsellor, midwife, school or witnesses).

(11) For the avoidance of doubt, no time limit shall operate in relation to any evidence supporting an application for civil legal services under paragraph 10.’.

Amendment 94, page 104, line 25, leave out ‘(“A”)’.

Amendment 95, page 104, line 27, leave out ‘other than A’.

Amendment 96, page 104, line 39, at end insert—

‘(1A) Civil legal services provided to an adult in relation to proceedings for financial relief in respect of a child who is the subject of an order or procedure mentioned in sub-paragraph (1).’.

Amendment 97, page 104, line 39, at end insert—

‘(1B) Civil legal services provided in relation to proceedings in which the court is considering giving a direction under section 37 of the Children Act 1989 (direction to authority, where care or supervision order may be appropriate, to investigate child’s circumstances).’.

Amendment 98, page 104, line 39, at end insert—

‘(1C) Civil legal services provided in relation to proceedings arising out of a family relationship involving a child in respect of whom a court has given a direction under section 37 of the Children Act 1989 (direction to authority, where care or supervision order may be appropriate, to investigate child’s circumstances); and “family relationship” has the same meaning for the purposes of this sub-paragraph as it has for the purposes of paragraph 10.’.

Amendment 99, page 105, line 42, leave out ‘to a child’.

Amendment 100, page 105, line 43, leave out first ‘the’ and insert ‘a’.

Amendment 101, page 106, line 1 , leave out first ‘the’ and insert ‘a’.

Amendment 102, page 106, line 3 , leave out first ‘the’ and insert ‘a’.

Amendment 83, page 108, line 44 , leave out sub-paragraphs (5), (6) and (7).

Government amendments 55 to 59.

Amendment 113, page 112, line 5 , at end insert—

‘Immigration: victims of domestic violence and indefinite leave to remain

24A (1) Civil legal services provided to an individual (“I”) in relation to an application by the individual for indefinite leave to remain in the United Kingdom or a claim by the individual to a right to reside in the United Kingdom, on the grounds that—

(a) I was given leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom for a limited period as the partner of another individual present and settled in the United Kingdom, or had the right to reside in the United Kingdom as the partner of another individual, and

31 Oct 2011 : Column 635

(b) I’s relationship with the other individual broke down permanently as a result of the abuse of I by an associated person.

General exclusions

(2) Sub-paragraph (1) is subject to the exclusions in Parts 2 and 3 of this Schedule.

Specific exclusions

(3) The services described in sub-paragraph (1) do not include attendance at an interview conducted on behalf of the Secretary of State with a view to reaching a decision on an application.

Definitions

(4) For the purposes of this paragraph, one individual is a partner of another if—

(a) they are married to each other,

(b) they are civil partners of each other, or

(c) they are cohabitants.

(5) In this paragraph—

“abuse” means any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality.

“associated person”, in relation to an individual, means a person who is associated with the individual within the meaning of section 62 of the Family Law Act 1996;

“cohabitant” has the same meaning as in Part 4 of the Family Law Act 1996 (see section 62 of that Act);

“indefinite leave to remain in the United Kingdom” means leave to remain in the United Kingdom under the Immigration Act 1971 which is not limited as to duration;

“present and settled in the United Kingdom” has the same meaning as in the rules made under section 3(2) of the Immigration Act 1971;

“right to reside” means a right of residence established under Directive 2004/38/EC of the European Parliament and the Council 29 April 2004 on the right of citizens of the Union and their family members to move and reside within the territory of the Member States amending Regulation (EEC) No 1612/68 and repealing Directives 64/221/EEC, 68/360/EEC, 72/194/EEC, 73/148/EEC, 75/34/EEC, 75/35/EEC, 90/364/EC, 90/365/EEC and 93/96/EEC.’.

Government amendments 60 and 61.

Amendment 145, page 112, line 11, at end insert—

‘(1A) Civil legal services provided to an individual for a matter arising out of any rule laid down under section 1(4) of the Immigration Act 1971 making provision for family members to enter or remain in the United Kingdom as the family member of a refugee or beneficiary of humanitarian protection.’.

Government amendments 62, 13, 14, 63, and 15 to 18.

Amendment 103, page 7, line 35, at end insert—

‘(7) But the Director must determine that an individual qualifies for civil legal services where the services relate to a matter falling within paragraph 10 of Schedule 1 and—

(a) the individual has been admitted to a refuge for persons suffering from domestic abuse;

(b) the individual has obtained medical or other professional services relating to the consequences of domestic abuse, or

(c) an assessment for the purpose of possible mediation of a family dispute has concluded that the parties need not engage in mediation as a result of domestic abuse,

and in this subsection “domestic abuse” means abuse of the kind to which paragraph 10(1) of Schedule 1 relates’.

Mr Djanogly: This rather substantial group of Government and Opposition amendments concerns legal aid for family and immigration matters, including domestic violence issues, as well as certain technical amendments to the Bill. I shall begin with a group of technical Government amendments, before moving on to the family and immigration ones.

Government amendments 10, 11, 13 and 14 amend paragraphs 3 and 33 of part 1 of schedule 1 in order to ensure that funding can be granted to the personal representative of a deceased child, vulnerable adult or victim of a sexual offence who wishes to pursue a civil claim for the benefit of the estate. The amendments are necessary because the Bill, as currently drafted, would limit legal aid to the child, vulnerable adult or victim personally. Where that individual dies, it is clearly right that legal aid should remain available to that individual’s personal representative to pursue a relevant claim on behalf of their estate. It is not necessary to make equivalent changes to other paragraphs in part 1 because relevant paragraphs do not exclude claims being brought by a personal representative. For other paragraphs, the case would either fall away with the death of a claimant or there would be another party who would be equally able to bring the claim.

Government amendments 15 to 18 relate to vetting and barring under section 4 of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 and applications relating to disqualification orders under sections 31 and 34 of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000. The amendments are technical and seek to ensure that funding for advocacy is provided in the relevant tribunal or court for these types of cases. In our consultation paper, “Proposals for the Reform of Legal Aid in England and Wales”, we announced our intention to retain civil legal services for section 4 of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act, which provides for a right of appeal to the upper tribunal against a decision to keep someone on a barred list from regulated activity relating to children or adults. The consultation paper provided that we would continue to fund those types of appeals to the upper tribunal on the basis that inclusion on a list would have a significant and lasting impact on the life and livelihood of an appellant who might have been included on the list in error.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): Has the Minister made an assessment of the amendments’ impact on organisations in Coventry such as the citizens advice bureau and the law centre?

Mr Djanogly: I expect the amendments to be generally well received.

The Bill currently refers to funding for advocacy being available in the first tier tribunal, and amendments 17 and 18 correct that position by making available funding for advocacy for appeals to the upper tribunal. Amendments 15 and 16 serve a similar purpose but in relation to sections 31 and 34 of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act. Appeals under section 31 are to the Court of Appeal, rather than the first tier tribunal, and funding for advocacy for such appeals is already covered by paragraph 2 of part 3 of schedule 1. Appeals under section 34 are to the High Court, and funding for advocacy for such appeals is already covered by paragraph 3 of part 3 of schedule 1.

I now turn to the family and domestic violence amendments, almost all of which have been debated in Committee already. I would like to reiterate why we are taking most private family law cases out of the scope of legal aid. The cost of legal aid, as it stands, is, we believe, simply unsustainable, and legal aid resources need to be focused on those cases where legal aid is most needed. Accordingly, for most divorces, child contact applications or ancillary applications to carve up family assets, legal aid will no longer be available. We believe that it is right to encourage families, where appropriate, to resolve their disputes without going to court. We want to prioritise mediation, which can be cheaper, quicker and less acrimonious than contested court proceedings. Legal aid will, therefore, remain available for mediation in private law family cases, and we estimate that we will spend an extra £10 million a year on mediation, taking the total to £25 million a year.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): Does the Minister not accept that in many cases where people are separating or divorcing, there is an imbalance of power, whether financial or emotional, and that mediation is simply not suitable for many such cases?

Mr Djanogly: I certainly accept that there will sometimes be an imbalance, and in relation to court proceedings themselves, we are proposing other measures—the ability for a judge to give interim orders, for instance—aimed at redressing that imbalance. However, I also accept the hon. Lady’s suggestion that mediation might not be suitable in every case, such as those involving domestic violence. Legal aid will remain available for private family law cases where there is evidence of domestic violence or where a child is at risk of abuse.

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): I want briefly to read to the Minister what my constituent Lucy Abell has written to me:

“I work with single parents every day in my job…and know how desperately vulnerable a lot of people are when they are going through an acrimonious separation. The outcomes of children and families are very dependent on what happens during this time, and I find it incredible that the Government thinks these changes will save the government money in the long term.”

She works for Gingerbread and sees such people all the time. She is convinced that what the Government are doing will be terribly damaging for children of those single parents.

Mr Djanogly: I am not entirely sure whether the right hon. Lady is talking about all cases of divorce or partners separating, or just those where there is domestic violence. However, I can tell her that in 90% of cases where there is a separating of the ways, the couple will reach an agreement. We are therefore talking about the remaining 10%. What we are saying in terms of policy is that for basic divorce—if divorce can ever be basic—people should not rely on legal aid for carving up the family assets or settling contact issues. However, I want to make it clear that funding for victims of domestic violence who seek a protective order will remain available.

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): Is it not also important to point out that the family courts have great difficulty dealing with contact issues, many of which are naturally unsuited to such treatment? Frankly, it is not very easy for a court to sort out arguments about whether a child can go to the scout group on a Friday night or whether they have to be with the other parent.

Mr Djanogly: My right hon. Friend makes an important point. I can tell him and other hon. Members that it has become clear to me, from my many meetings over the last year and a half with mediators and lobby groups such as those already mentioned, that in the vast majority of cases the parties are better off sorting out their problems together with the help of the mediator. For the most part, mediation is empowering. In most cases, the best way forward is for people to be able to sort out their own futures and those of their children without being told what to do by a judge, and that is what the Government support.

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): I want to ask the Minister about cases where domestic abuse or violence per se is not present, but where conflict between the parents none the less makes it simply impossible for mediation to work effectively. In the interests of children, will the Minister consider extending legal aid in those circumstances, so that where a mediator knows that mediation simply could not work, the parents will still receive advice?

Mr Djanogly: The Government have changed the law through a pre-action protocol. The position from this April has been that where a divorce application is made, the parties have to see whether mediation is appropriate, as has been the case with publicly funded divorce cases. That does not, I hasten to add, mean that the parties have to go to mediation; however, they have to be assessed to see whether mediation is appropriate. I can tell the hon. Lady that the initial findings are very positive indeed. We have adequate mediators, with more than 1,000 mediation units around the country, and all are reporting a significant upturn in business, which is a positive outcome.

Kate Green: I agree with the Minister about the desirability of mediation wherever it can work best for all the parties. We would all like appropriate mediation to be used as much as possible in such cases, but can he clarify what he just said? Where a couple is found unsuitable for mediation because of the conflict between them, but where violence or abuse is absent, will they be able to access legal aid?

Mr Djanogly: I am afraid that the hon. Lady misunderstands the nature of mediation. In normal circumstances, it is not for the mediator to sit in judgment on the individuals who turn up for mediation. That happens in the assessment. The mediator should explain to the individuals the purpose of mediation and it is for the individuals themselves to decide whether mediation is appropriate. If violence was involved, the mediator might suggest that, in those circumstances, mediation is not appropriate. If domestic violence is involved, the Government believe that legal aid should be provided.

Mr Jim Cunningham rose —

Joan Ruddock rose —

Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab) rose —

Mr Djanogly: I shall give way one more time on this point—to the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham).

Mr Cunningham: I want to be helpful to the Minister. Can he clarify how the amendments on legal aid would apply, for example, to rape crisis centres such as the one we have in Coventry? I am not too clear about how that will be affected.

Mr Djanogly: The Government are supportive of crisis centres. We have increased our provision for them. The amendments do not in any way affect the issue one way or another. That is a separate policy item.

Joan Ruddock: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Djanogly: I really must make some headway. If the right hon. Lady will give me a few minutes, I might allow her to intervene again.

We will continue to provide civil legal aid where a person is applying for an order for protection against domestic violence, as with a non-molestation order or an occupation order. We will also continue to waive the financial eligibility limits in these cases. We will still spend an estimated £120 million a year on private family law, including on domestic violence, after our proposed changes. This includes funding for about a quarter of the private family law cases that currently receive legal aid to go to court. We expect to continue to fund them where domestic violence or child abuse results from those cases.

Amendments 92 and 23 would put parts of the definition of domestic violence used by the Association of Chief Police Officers on the face of the Bill in paragraph 10 of schedule 1 in place of the existing definition of abuse. Identical amendments were debated in Committee. The existing definition of abuse used in the Bill is a broad and comprehensive one, explicitly not limited to physical violence. It is used elsewhere in paragraph 3 of schedule 1, which provides for legal aid to be available in relation to abuse of a child or vulnerable adult, and paragraph 11, which provides for legal aid to be available for a person seeking an order to protect a child at risk of abuse. Any consideration of the definition in one paragraph should not be undertaken entirely in isolation from the others—lest confusion should result.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): Will the Minister explain why a different definition is being used here from that used in other Home Office and Ministry of Justice documents? A lot of concern has arisen among women’s organisations that there is an agenda here; we would love to know what that agenda is.

Mr Djanogly: If the hon. Lady will allow me to get on, I will clarify precisely that.

The definition should also be seen in the light of the Bill’s structure and the purpose of the paragraph in which it appears. Paragraph 10 reflects the underlying policy of ensuring that a party to private law family proceedings who has been subjected to domestic violence by the other party and is likely to be intimidated or otherwise disadvantaged in presenting his or her case should, as a result, be able to have access to legal aid. It does not provide that any individual who has been the subject of, or who is at risk of being the subject of, abuse as defined in that paragraph will qualify regardless of what evidence of abuse might exist. Not every such individual will be intimidated or otherwise disadvantaged in the way the paragraph is intended to address. It establishes a description of legal services and whether an individual qualifies for those services in any specific case. It requires that an individual not only falls within the category in paragraph 10, but meets the criteria to be established in regulations made under clause 10.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): We raised with the Government a couple of months ago the possibility of seeing the regulations in draft before reaching this Report stage. Many Members feel that that would have aided our consideration of these provisions. Why has the Minister not produced those regulations?

Mr Djanogly: Because the Bill and relevant clauses are still going through the House and still have to go through the other place. The regulations will be produced once the Bill comes into law.

Those criteria will set out the specific requirements as to evidence of the fact of abuse or the risk of abuse. The definition of abuse itself is therefore only a preliminary part of the picture. In that sense, it might be argued that it makes little difference whether definition takes one form or another arguably rather similar form. However, we are still not convinced that the definition should be changed in the way suggested in the amendments.

5.15 pm

The definition in the Bill embraces mental as well as physical abuse, neglect, maltreatment and exploitation. Those references would cover, for example, abusive behaviour relating to the family finances. The definition in the Bill would not exclude from scope any of the types of abuse covered by the definition used by the Association of Chief Police Officers, and this part of the amendment is unnecessary. The amendment is, however, also potentially misleading. It would take a definition intended as a very wide operational net to catch behaviour that should not be disregarded and should be investigated —although it may emerge from the investigation that no action is called for—and place it in a context that is inevitably after the fact and directed to the effects of the behaviour in subsequent proceedings.

Mrs Helen Grant (Maidstone and The Weald) (Con): Does the Minister not accept that the fact that the definition is not specific has the potential to create some uncertainty, and that uncertainty, especially at the beginning of court proceedings, will create even more hardship for the victim, which may well lead to litigation in itself? Is it not possible to be more precise, so that people need not worry about what is and what is not acceptable?

Mr Djanogly: I shall be discussing that in a little more detail, but I would answer my hon. Friend’s more general point that the definition could make things harder for a court by saying that the court will in any event have to take a view at some point

Mrs Grant rose—

Mr Djanogly: If my hon. Friend will let me finish, I will allow her to intervene again later.

The reference to “any incident”, for example, might be read as securing legal aid for any person who could point to some sort of incident regardless of whether it was serious or minor, such that the victim would not generally feel inhibited about pursuing litigation against the other party. That would not reflect the underlying intention, nor would it be the effect in practice if the regulations required certain forms of proof. The touchstone for whether a party obtains funding must be whether the abuse was such as to inhibit their ability to present their case against the other party. The circumstances that will be accepted as evidence of the abuse will turn on the application by courts, prosecutors and other agencies of their existing criteria. It is when the courts and others have determined that the level of the abusive conduct is such that protective action or prosecution is necessary that legal aid will be available.

Joan Ruddock: Given that the purpose of all this is to save money, I must assume that the definition in the Bill means that the Minister expects women, or occasionally men, who would formerly have pursued such domestic violence cases not to pursue them, and not to be eligible. Has he made an estimate of the likely reduction in legally funded cases?

Mr Djanogly: I am happy to confirm that this particular definition is not directly related to saving money. It is there because it is a definition that works.

Amendment 23 goes beyond amendment 92 in referring also to the relationship between those involved. It would cover

“intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality.”

This part of the amendment is superfluous, because it duplicates sub-paragraph 7 of paragraph 10 of the schedule. The sub-paragraph relies on the definition of associated persons in the Family Law Act 1996, which is wide, and covers the relationships set out in the amendment and more.

Amendment 91 also concerns the relationship between those involved. The Bill provides for legal aid to be available to victims of domestic violence for matters

“arising out of a family relationship”.

The amendment would change the phrase “family relationship” to “family or other intimate relationship”. It is unnecessary for the same reason as amendment 23. Paragraph 10(7) of the schedule defines a family relationship as one between persons who are associated with each other. The definition of “associated persons” in the 1996 Act, on which that paragraph relies, includes two people who

“have or have had an intimate personal relationship with each other which is or was of significant duration”.

The wording of the amendment therefore appears to add nothing.

Amendments 103 and 74 both set out a range of forms of evidence that would be accepted as demonstrating domestic violence for the purpose of qualifying for legal aid in private family law cases. Very similar amendments were debated in Committee, and in this case I can say to the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) that there would be economic consequences. We want genuine victims of domestic violence to have the benefit of legal aid in such cases, when they would be disadvantaged by facing their abuser as the other party. However, during consultation we have heard many concerns that the proposal in the amendments could lead to a rise in unfounded allegations, and we want to guard against that.

Susan Elan Jones: Organisations such as the National Federation of Women’s Institutes and Women’s Aid declare that they are very concerned about the Government’s proposals, so why does the Minister think he is right and they are wrong?

Mr Djanogly: Because I and the Government consulted at some length on the proposals and received a lot of positive responses. As a result of that consultation we broadened the definition concerned, so we have listened. Indeed, we have tabled a further amendment today in relation to immigrants to broaden it even further.

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): I hope the Minister accepts that, although amendment 74 and other amendments would enlarge the evidential tests, they would still require a degree of evidence of to be given. That evidence may not come from such limited places as he wants, but it may be from GPs or women’s refuges. Yet he is saying that he cannot accept such evidence, because it would be part of “unfounded allegations”. Is he suggesting that those organisations collude in false allegations?

Mr Djanogly: The hon. Gentleman makes a frankly ridiculous comment. He mentioned GPs, and of course a GP is qualified to tell whether someone has been subject to violence. However, they are not always well qualified to tell whether someone has been subject to domestic violence, because they may not have seen the circumstances in the home and may only be looking at the injury of the party coming to their surgery. The Government are looking for objective evidence.

Mr Slaughter: I would like the Minister to respond to my question. As the tests in question are evidential tests, not subjective or self-referred, does that support his point about false allegations? Evidence from GPs is commonly used to support cases in criminal trials, including sometimes when a woman is unwilling to give evidence herself because she is intimidated or in fear.

Mr Djanogly: The hon. Gentleman makes the exact point that I would have made in response to him. Evidence is used in a trial, but the GP does not make the decision, he gives evidence. We see the trial as being the objective evidence, and that is what we suggest in the Bill.

Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): My hon. Friend makes proper points about the need for courts to make findings of fact. Does he accept, however, that there is a potential problem with regard to undertakings? In proceedings in which undertakings could be a way of sorting out the problem satisfactorily, those advising the parties involved could prejudice their clients’ ability to obtain legal aid in future if domestic violence rears its ugly head again. Will he look again at how we can manage those circumstances so that people are not put in that potentially prejudicial situation?

Mr Djanogly: I am happy to consider the particular circumstances that my hon. Friend mentions on the subject of undertakings, but again, we are talking about a situation that does not involve an objective test. It would be down to the word of the two people making the undertaking. In certain circumstances that may be correct, but in others it may not.

Sandra Osborne (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (Lab): I worked with Women’s Aid for 16 years, and the Minister is taking us back decades by perpetrating myths about domestic violence that we thought we had seen the end of 30 years ago. Does he not understand that women who are subjected to domestic violence are, by definition, captive victims and there is no one else in the room? To say that they are not going to be believed is taking us back decades. Will he look at this again?

Mr Djanogly: Everything the Government have said, and every action we have taken, shows that we take domestic violence extremely seriously. To some extent, the hon. Lady and other hon. Members are approaching this issue from the wrong direction in that they begin by addressing domestic violence, but that is not the right starting point. The starting point for the Government is that we are removing legal aid for private family law, but we are keeping it for domestic violence, as that is of the utmost concern to us. My point, however, is that we need to have objective evidence of domestic violence so that we target taxpayers’ money on genuine cases where the victim needs assistance because they are intimidated or otherwise disadvantaged by the fact of facing the abuser in the proceedings.

Sheila Gilmore: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Djanogly: I shall make a little more progress first.

The forms of evidence that will be accepted for this purpose are not set out in the Bill. Instead, they will be set out in regulations under clause 10. We believe it is appropriate to set out these detailed provisions in secondary, rather than primary, legislation as it can be amended to respond to particular issues that may arise during the operation of the scheme.

In the consultation, we suggested what might be the forms of evidence of domestic violence, and we listened to the views expressed on that in response. As a result, we have widened the range of forms of evidence, and, furthermore, only one of the forms of evidence would be needed. Legal aid will be available for victims of domestic violence in private family law cases where one of the following criteria is met: where a non-molestation order, occupation order, forced marriage protection order or other protective injunction against the other party is in place or has been made in the last 12 months; there is a criminal conviction for a domestic violence offence committed by the other party against the applicant for funding, unless the conviction is spent; there are ongoing criminal proceedings against the other party for a domestic violence offence by that party against the applicant for funding; the applicant for funding has been referred to a multi-agency risk assessment conference as a high-risk victim of domestic violence, and a plan has been put in place to protect them from violence by the other party; there has been a finding of fact in the family courts of domestic violence by the other party, giving rise to a risk of harm to the victim.

Kate Green: Will the fact that there is, for example, a non-molestation order be taken as evidence of suitability for legal aid in family proceedings, and will legal aid be available to enable a victim of domestic violence to get such an order?

Mr Djanogly: Yes, it will be. The hon. Lady makes a very important point, which has come up in consultation and has often been misconstrued. For such individuals, legal aid will be provided for the application for a non-molestation order, for example.

It might be helpful if I give an idea of the prevalence of these forms of evidence. About 24,100 domestic violence orders were made in 2010, about 74,000 domestic violence crimes were prosecuted in 2009-10 and there were 53,000 domestic violence convictions. Further, about 43,000 victims of domestic violence were referred to multi-agency risk assessment conferences in the 12 months to June 2010.

Helen Goodman: Surely the Minister can see that there is a 21,000 gap between the numbers of those prosecuted and those convicted? Surely he is also aware that the Crown Prosecution Service goes ahead with prosecutions only when there is a reasonable expectation of success in the case? Surely, therefore, he can see that we are not dancing on the head of a pin, as we are talking about 21,000 women every year?

Mr Djanogly: Those numbers may overlap to some extent; in other words, someone might not have been prosecuted as there may have been a civil injunction, or perhaps a multi-agency risk assessment conference made the decision.

The forms of evidence we intend to accept will meet a high standard of objectivity. We are concerned that many of the additional forms of evidence suggested in the amendments would rely on the word of those involved and would provide an incentive for allegations where none currently exists. Let me make it clear that I am not questioning the integrity of genuine victims. However, during the legal aid consultation many people were concerned about providing an incentive for unfounded allegations, and the Government share that concern.

5.30 pm

Mrs Grant: Post-separation violence is very common in domestic violence cases. I am concerned that there is a 12-month time limit on the gateway criteria for family law matters, which means that if the violence occurs after that period many highly vulnerable women and children could fall through the net.

Mr Djanogly: That relates to amendment 74. I am going to deal with it and I am sure that my hon. Friend will be pleased with the answer I will give her.

Accepting self-reporting without objective evidence would prevent us from effectively focusing assistance on victims of domestic violence who were unable effectively to present their case against the other party because of the history or risk of abuse by that party. Both amendments refer to evidence from professionals in a variety of roles. I explained that we have widened our criteria so that legal aid will be available where the victim has been referred to a multi-agency risk-assessment conference as a high-risk victim of domestic violence and a plan has been put in place to protect them from violence by the other party. Such referrals can be made by a range of professionals. Furthermore, a finding of fact in the family courts that domestic violence has occurred will trigger legal aid, and a court will be able to assess any relevant evidence.

Amendment 74, to which my hon. Friend referred, would prevent a time limit from applying to any evidence. We have said that a 12-month period, where relevant, will apply. We consider that 12 months will be an appropriate period to protect victims and to enable them to deal with their private family law issues. However, if the criteria were to arise again—for instance, if a second protective injunction is made—the time period would start again. It is also important to remember that legal aid will remain available for exceptional out-of-scope cases where the failure to provide such funding would amount to the breach of an individual’s rights under the European convention on human rights, particularly article 6.

Sheila Gilmore: Will the Minister explain how the individual achieves the finding of fact in a family court in order to trigger legal aid if they cannot get legal aid to take proceedings in a family court?

Mr Djanogly: The answer is that they can get legal aid to take those proceedings.

Amendment 93 would provide for legal aid to be available for any party in a private family law case who has been the subject of allegations of domestic violence or the risk of domestic violence. We debated an identical amendment in Committee. In considering whether alleged perpetrators should receive legal aid in these cases it is important to remember that we are seeking to protect the most vulnerable in society. Alleged perpetrators would not necessarily fall into that category in the way a victim of abuse would do so. Furthermore, allegations would not meet the test of clear, objective evidence that would otherwise apply in these cases. Accepting such an amendment would be likely to cost tens of millions of pounds in savings, without achieving the objective of targeting legal aid on those most in need.

I turn to the other amendments relating to private law children cases, such as disputes about custody, where a child is at risk of abuse. These are amendments to paragraph 11 of schedule 1, which provides for legal aid to be available in such cases for the party seeking to protect the child, where there is objective evidence of the risk of abuse. Again, identical or near-identical versions of the amendments were discussed in Committee.

Amendment 96 would provide for applications for financial provision for children to be in scope for legal aid where the child is the subject of one or more of the measures listed in sub-paragraph 11 (1) of schedule 1. The list of orders in that sub-paragraph is intended to cover orders and procedures used to secure protection, and it includes orders under section 8 of the Children

Act 1989, which may be used in that way, including contact and residence orders. The effect of amendment 96 would be that applications for maintenance or other financial provision for a child would be in scope whenever a contact or residence order has been made in relation to that child, regardless of any need for protection. The original legal aid proposals were silent on the issue of children at risk of abuse in private law children cases.

We have listened to the concerns raised during the consultation on this point. For example, one party might be seeking an order to bar an abuser from unsupervised contact with a child. We agree that child protection is of paramount importance and we recognise that it would be difficult for the protective party to act in person in cases of potential complexity and heightened risk to the child requiring prompt and clear action. This is a separate rationale to a situation in which the adult has been subject to abuse such that he or she cannot be expected to represent themselves against their abuser.

We do not consider that cases concerning financial provision are of equal priority and nor do they raise the same issues. Financial matters are of lower objective importance than child protection and we would not expect the protecting party to encounter the same level of complexity—still less risk—or need for urgent protective action in a case about financial provision. Furthermore, the person presenting the risk of abuse might not be the other party in the financial provision proceedings. Although protecting a child from abuse is clearly of high importance, it is not appropriate that in a case for financial provision, which is a separate matter from the consideration of protective measures, a distinction should be drawn between maintenance for children considered at risk of abuse and maintenance for other children.

Amendment 97 would bring into the scope of legal aid the entirety of any proceedings in which the court was considering whether to direct the local authority to investigate the circumstances of the child. Under section 37 of the Children Act 1989, the court may make such direction if it appears that it might be appropriate for a care or supervision order to be made. The amendment appears to be unnecessary and, in any event, goes too far. Under paragraph 1 of the schedule, legal aid will be available for public family law cases such as care and supervision proceedings, as at present. We believe that the state should ensure that families are able to challenge decisions made by public authorities about the provision of care for children.

Directions under section 37 of the 1989 Act are considered to be public family law matters for legal aid purposes because they relate to care and supervision orders under paragraph 1(1)(b) of schedule 1. Funding is therefore available in relation to section 37 issues. There is no reason, in principle, why a case could not be adjourned briefly in such a situation to allow the parties to seek a legal aid lawyer for the section 37 issue if that were warranted. Providers are able to use devolved powers to grant immediate funding in emergency situations, subject to means and merits-testing.

Amendment 98 also references section 37 directions and would bring into scope any private family law proceedings that involve a child in respect of whom a direction under section 37 of the 1989 Act had been given, regardless of the outcome of that section 37 investigation. That is a broad proposition that I do not think can be justified.

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): May I ask why the Minister is discussing amendments that have not been selected by the Speaker? He seems to be referring to amendments 98 and 97.

Mr Djanogly: Amendments 94 to 102 have been selected.

Under amendment 98, a section 37 direction, regardless of the outcome of the investigation, would trigger funding for all parties in any private law family proceedings in which the child was involved. A section 37 order in itself does not mean that the child is at risk of abuse. The local authority staff could conclude, once they had completed their investigation, that the child was not at risk and that no further action was needed. If the local authority concluded that action was needed, it would put a child protection plan in place. As I have said, legal aid will be available in private law children cases in which a child is at risk of abuse for a party seeking to protect the child where there is objective evidence of the risk of abuse. A child protection plan will be accepted as objective evidence in criteria that will be set out in regulations under clause 10. That means that if a local authority put such a plan in place, that would trigger funding for the party seeking to protect the child.

Providing for legal aid to be available for any family proceedings involving the child, as amendment 98 would do, would mean that legal aid would not be targeted on proceedings about protection of the child, but could be available for proceedings that might not concern protection at all. For example, a case about financial relief for the parents could be covered if an application were made for financial relief for the child. Given that the words “involving a child” do not give much indication of how closely the child needs to be concerned, it might even be that a case between the parents about a matter that did not directly concern the child was included.

Amendment 98 would also provide for legal aid to be available for all parties to the proceedings. We intend to target funding on the protecting party. Where a party is not the person taking action to protect a child from abuse, the same level of importance and risk would not apply.

Amendments 94 and 95 would also widen the availability of legal aid under paragraph 11 beyond the parties seeking to protect the child. That would mean that legal aid would be available for the other party in private law children cases where a child is at risk of abuse. As I have explained, we decided to keep those cases in scope for the protecting party because protecting children from abuse is paramount. Where a party is not the person taking action to protect a child from abuse, the same level of importance and risk would not apply.

The tests we wish to use to determine the availability of legal aid in these cases are designed to be as objective as possible and to minimise the risk of false allegations. The tests are: where there is a criminal conviction or ongoing criminal proceedings for a child abuse offence; where a local authority has put a child protection plan in place to protect the child; or where there is a relevant finding of fact by the family courts that child abuse has occurred. They will provide clear and objective evidence of the risk of abuse. However, if the particular facts of an individual case mean that failure to provide legal aid for both parties would be likely to result in a breach of the individual’s rights under the Human Rights Act or European Union law, exceptional funding would be available.

I turn now to amendments 99 to 102, which seek to retain legal aid provision for all parties in private family cases where the court has made a child a party to proceedings. Identical amendments were debated in Committee. The Government intend to retain legal aid for a child who is a party in these circumstances. However, as we made clear in Committee, we do not accept that, where a child requires representation, adult family members should as a matter of routine also be given legal aid. There are a variety of reasons for a child to be a party, and not all will involve the complexity of a case. In cases where a child is represented, it does not follow that the case will necessarily be so complex or that the child’s involvement will render the case so complex or difficult as to require representation for all parties.

By their nature, some of the cases will be complex, and we recognise that in some circumstances people will be unable to represent themselves, but we think that those cases will be the exception. The exceptional funding arrangements will ensure that legal aid will be available where required. A failure to provide legal aid in cases where people genuinely could not represent themselves would be likely to breach an individual’s right to legal aid under the Human Rights Act or EU law.

I turn now to the immigration amendments, which include technical Government amendments, Government and Opposition amendments relating to domestic violence immigration cases and other amendments seeking to widen the scope of legal aid for refugee family reunion matters and immigration judicial review cases. Government amendments 61 and 62 will amend paragraph 25(1) of part 1 of schedule 1 to correct an omission in the meaning of asylum in the Bill. That will ensure that persons who make a claim to enter or remain in the UK based on the EU qualification directive are eligible for legal aid. Government amendment 60 will make a similar change to paragraph 25 to cover claims based on article 2 of the European convention on human rights, which sets out the right to life. Although most claims for asylum will be made on the basis of the 1951 refugee convention or article 3 of the European convention on human rights, the amendment will allow funding for cases involving execution and the death penalty; serious and individual threat to a civilian’s life or person by reason of indiscriminate violence in situations of international or internal armed conflict; and unlawful killing.

Government amendments 55 to 58 clarify the wording of paragraph 17(7) of part 1 of schedule 1 with regard to the exceptions from scope to the exclusion of certain types of immigration judicial review proceedings. Amendments 55 and 56 will amend paragraph 17(7)(a) to clarify that the exception applies only to a judicial review of a negative decision in relation to an asylum application where there is no right of appeal to the first-tier tribunal against the decision. Amendments 57 and 58 will amend the exception in paragraph 17(7)(b) to add a reference to section 94 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. Section 94 allows the Secretary of State to issue a certificate on a number of different grounds, for example when an asylum claim is clearly unfounded. The certificate prevents an appeal to the first-tier tribunal being brought while an individual is in the UK. The amendments clarify the position and ensure that the policy is given effect.

Amendment 83 seeks to maintain within legal aid civil funding certain immigration judicial review cases that are very likely to be without merit. We debated an identical proposition in Committee. These are cases that either have already had a hearing on the same, or substantially the same, issue within a period of one year, or are judicial reviews of removal directions where there is less than one year between the giving of the direction and determination of the decision to remove. In response to our legal aid consultation, the Judges Council highlighted the large number of immigration judicial reviews that were without merit and, in effect, clog up the system. Only a minority of those would receive legal aid. As we made clear in Committee, the Government’s view is that it is wrong in principle for such cases to remain within the scope of funding.

5.45 pm

The first category of case that we intend to remove from the scope of funding is one in which there has already been at least one appeal before the tribunal, or another judicial review within the last year, on the same or substantially the same issue. Judges in immigration judicial reviews too often see attempts to litigate on the same points again and again, essentially to string out the removals process, and we do not think that taxpayer funding should be available in such instances.

The second category relates to judicial reviews of removal directions, rather than the underlying direct decision. Such proceedings are often brought at the last minute, sometimes as people are literally being put on a plane, and again they are essentially designed to frustrate the removals process. Similarly, we do not think that the UK taxpayer should be asked to foot the bill for such claims.

There will of course be some genuine although unusual cases in those categories, and they would still in principle warrant legal aid. That is why we have made exceptions to our proposed exclusions, and they take into account principally the potential for changes in an individual’s circumstances over time.

In both categories, the exclusion would be subject to a one-year time limit. Judicial reviews of a refusal by the Secretary of State to treat a claim for asylum as a fresh claim—one with new facts or circumstances—would also be retained by making sure that when there was a possibility that there had not already been an opportunity for appeal, legal aid for judicial review would still be available, subject to the normal means and merits test.

As we said in Committee, we are retaining legal aid for most judicial reviews, immigration or otherwise. We accept that an individual’s ability to hold the state to account is an important principle, but when it has been abused, combined with the need to target resources effectively, we think that removing legal aid from those discrete categories of cases is justified, especially with the safeguards that I have set out.

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): In the analysis of the evidence of the number of cases that actually had used judicial review to have another review that then turned out to be supported in the courts, does the Minister have actual figures to justify his blanket removal?

Mr Djanogly: We do have figures, but I do not happen to have them with me. I will write to the hon. Gentleman with figures. Most judicial review cases are funded privately rather than through legal aid, however, and I say that because I have seen the figures, and one needs to know that to understand them.

Government amendment 59 would amend part 1 of schedule 1 to bring domestic violence immigration rule cases into the scope of legal aid, as I announced to the Public Bill Committee on 19 July.

Government amendment 63 would amend part 3 of schedule 1 to ensure that civil legal aid were available for the advocacy of such cases in the first-tier tribunal. Advocacy will also be available in the upper tribunal by virtue of paragraph 14 of part 3.

Under the domestic violence immigration rule, someone on a spousal visa, which is valid for a limited period of time, and whose relationship has permanently broken down as a result of domestic violence, can apply for indefinite leave to remain in the United Kingdom. As I said in Committee, we accept that these cases are very unusual and different from other immigration cases, given the real risk that without legal aid spouses will stay trapped in abusive relationships for fear of jeopardising their immigration status. The trauma that they may have suffered will often make it very difficult to cope with that type of application, and they are also under time pressure, because they have only limited access to public funds to avoid destitution, so for those reasons we seek to make these amendments to schedule 1.

Amendment 113 adopts the same wording as the Government amendment I have just discussed, but with two differences—one that I am happy to look at further, and one that I think is unnecessary. First, the amendment would include within the scope of funding, civil legal services provided to an individual in relation to a claim by the individual to a right to reside in the United Kingdom, as well as an application for indefinite leave, when their relationship had broken down permanently as a result of domestic violence. EEA nationals and their spouses or partners, if from a third country, have a long-term right to reside in the UK if they are economically active or able to support themselves without becoming an unreasonable burden on public funds.

The Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006 make provision for third country nationals in such relationships to remain in the UK—that is, their right to reside can continue—if their relationship breaks down as a result of domestic violence. The application is different for those people who apply under the domestic violence immigration rule for indefinite leave to remain. The rules that apply are different. However, I am sure that the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) will be pleased to hear that we are looking further at such cases.

Amendment 113 seeks to replace the definition of abuse adopted in the Government amendment and used elsewhere in part 1 of schedule 1 to the Bill with the definition of domestic violence used by the Association of Chief Police Officers. The existing definition of abuse used in the Bill is a broad and comprehensive one, explicitly not limited to physical violence, and it would cover mental as well as physical abuse, neglect, maltreatment and exploitation. Indeed, it would not exclude from scope any of the types of abuse covered by the definition used by ACPO. Furthermore, the proposed definition of abuse would cover intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender and sexuality. That part of the amendment is superfluous, as the proposed Government amendment relies on the definition of associated persons in the Family Law Act 1996, which is a wide one that would cover the relationships set out in the amendment, and more. The second change proposed in amendment 113 is therefore unnecessary, but we will look at the first. I hope that hon. Members will be reassured by that.

Amendment 145 seeks to bring family reunion cases back into the scope of legal aid, at a cost of about £5 million a year. Those cases involve a person who has been granted asylum or refugee status and who sponsors the applications of their immediate family to join them. They are immigration applications, rather than asylum ones, and they are generally straightforward. The UK Border Agency guidance on these cases sets out the presumption of the granting of an application if the relevant criteria are met. The evidence required, such as marriage and birth certificates, should not require legal assistance to collate. The entry clearance officer may, on occasion, ask for DNA testing to prove the family relationship, but that testing would be free of charge to the applicant. These cases should not require specialist legal advice, and it is not therefore necessary for them to remain within the scope of civil legal aid.

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): My office handles a lot of asylum and immigration cases, and of course some of them are entirely straightforward, as the Minister has suggested. Does he accept, however, that some family reunion cases are definitely not straightforward? They might involve a child being in a different country from the mother, or someone not having a passport. There could also be real issues involved in proving the relationship. Will he look again at the opportunity for some cases—I am not arguing for the generality—to be eligible for legal assistance?

Mr Djanogly: I certainly agree with my right hon. Friend that some immigration cases are complex, and I think that the point that he has raised is one for me to look at after today. I will do so, and I will come back to him on that.

On the basis of everything that I have just set out, I therefore urge the House to support Government amendments 10, 11, 13 to 18 and 55 to 63. I also hope that right hon. and hon. Members will be reassured by what I have said about the other amendments.

| Hansard

...

Mr Djanogly: First, let me confirm to my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) and other hon. Members that I have listened carefully to the debate, which has been informed and varied. A significant number of general and more specific issues have come up in our deliberations. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Ben Gummer) that the debate has, in some ways, become too polarised given the significant agreement and consensus among all hon. Members about the need to counter domestic violence.

Given the number of issues to address, it is hard to know where to start, but I shall begin with the definition of abuse, which was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) and the hon. Members for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) and for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman). The accusation is that the definition of abuse in the Bill narrows the scope of legal aid in comparison with ACPO’s definition. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Bill weakened the definition of abuse. I can confirm to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion that the definition in the Bill does not require physical abuse. Both the ACPO definition and the Bill definition are very broad and embrace abuse that is not physical, and it is difficult to see what description of behaviour in the ACPO definition would not be covered by the broad description of physical or mental abuse used in the Bill.

The right hon. Gentleman suggested that I said in Committee that to widen the definition of domestic violence would induce self-reporting. As I think my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich was heading towards saying, that confuses the definition of abuse, which determines scope, and the criteria for an individual to qualify. The definition of abuse in the Bill is broad and it is difficult to see how it does not cover that which is covered by the ACPO definition. Neither definition says anything about how abuse is to be evidenced.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon injected a sense of balance into the debate and I noted his condemnation of archaic and unacceptable language. I think we can all agree on that.

The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the Bill and ACPO definitions of domestic violence. To put an end to this issue, let me say that if any right hon. or hon. Member can write to me with a specific, concrete example of abuse that would be covered by the ACPO definition but not by the definition in the Bill I will give the issue serious consideration.

Kate Green: I am not going to give the Minister an example of that. If he is so sure that there is such an overlap, why not use the ACPO definition?

Mr Djanogly: I look forward to the hon. Lady providing her reasons why that should be the case.

The right hon. Gentleman made a significant number of points for his significant number of amendments, most of which I covered in my preliminary remarks, and I do not intend to go over them all again. However, he mentioned two particular points that I did not cover, so if he does not mind I will concentrate on those.

It is not clear that amendments 92 or 93 would widen the category of services described in paragraph 10 significantly or at all. The definition of abuse used in the Bill is intentionally broad and not limited to physical violence, but it embraces physical or mental abuse. Abuse is stated to include sexual abuse and abuse in the form of violence, neglect, maltreatment and exploitation, but it is not limited to those examples. Therefore, we believe that it is sufficiently flexible to cover cases of genuine abuse, as is the intention. Both amendments refer to physical and mental abuse, which are already explicitly referred to in the Bill’s definition. Additionally, they refer to threatening behaviour, violence and emotional abuse, which are clearly within the scope of physical and mental abuse and so are unnecessary and add nothing to the breadth of the category.

Further reference is made to financial abuse. It is not entirely clear what that would cover outside the context of serious cases where the treatment of one party by the other in relation to the family finances amounts to physical or, in particular, mental abuse, which would include neglect, maltreatment and exploitation in the Bill’s definition, where it is clearly within the definition of abuse in the Bill. Where the financial abuse does not amount to or form part of physical or mental abuse, it could be argued that the amendment would widen the gateway beyond what might be ordinarily understood as abusive behaviour, but in a way where the effect is unclear. For instance, there is no special reference to financial abuse in the provisions of the Family Law Act 1996 to protect against domestic violence or in case law, in contrast to emotional or psychological abuse, so it is questionable what it would add in this regard.

However, the amendment also stipulates that any incident of abuse would suffice to come within the category. On one construction, that would make no difference since the existing definition does not require a course of conduct, but on another construction it might be argued that the explicit reference to any incident could be read as a potential fetter on the power to define what would be accepted as sufficient evidence of abuse through secondary legislation. That is because the type of evidence acceptable will reflect a certain degree of seriousness. For instance, a family court will not generally make orders relating to minor, one-off incidents, although it will do so in appropriate circumstances, such as a course of conduct of trivial incidents adding up to something more serious.

It is not clear that any challenge to secondary legislation requiring forms of evidence that in themselves are unlikely to arise from minor, single incidents would have any prospect of success, but the risk cannot be entirely ruled out. Were it impossible to prescribe the forms of evidence proposed to date, we estimate that the consequent opening up of eligibility would at the very least double the cost of the domestic violence gateway to £130 million per annum.

The part of amendment 23 that refers to violence or abuse

“between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality”

is superfluous, since it duplicates the effect of paragraph 10(7), which sets out that for the purposes of the paragraph there is a family relationship between two people if they are associated with each other. That “associated” has the same meaning as set out in part 4 of the 1996 Act. In part 4 of that Act, “associated” is defined very widely and covers a range of relationships no less wide, and in some instances wider, than the ACPO definition.

Amendment 93 would widen the domestic violence gateway so that legal aid would be available for the potential victim in private family law cases where there has been an as yet unproven allegation of abuse, or of the risk of abuse. It would make the gateway extremely wide and, in effect, would mean that self-reporting would have to be accepted as sufficient evidence of domestic violence, making any other evidentiary requirements redundant. It would be difficult to limit very far the forms of evidence of an allegation of abuse, or of the risk of abuse, that would be accepted. We estimate that that would at the very least double the cost of the domestic violence gateway to £130 million per annum.

The amendment refers to allegations that person B has been abused by person A. In paragraph 10 of schedule 1, it is person A who is the victim, and person B who is the abuser—the other way around. However, the amendment does not change the opening proposition, which is that the services are provided to person A. This appears to have the perverse consequence that if the proven abuser, person B, alleges that the proven victim, person A, was the abuser, person A would qualify more easily for legal aid since they would then have to give as evidence only an allegation by person B of abuse or the risk of abuse. That is almost certainly a drafting error, but if it is not, and the intention is instead to ensure that legal aid would be available where either party might be the victim of abuse, that would be unnecessary.

In relation to amendment 97, the intended effect is unnecessary because section 37 proceedings are public law matters and it would be possible, in private law proceedings, for a court that is considering a section 37 order to adjourn so that the parents, if they are not already represented, may have access to legal aid and representation under the public law heading. The actual effect is rather wider. However, the amendment would bring the whole of family proceedings, such as proceedings for residence and contact with children, into scope where the court considers making a section 37 direction, rather than simply consideration of that point. Again, this may be a matter of defective drafting, but if so the entire amendment would be superfluous.

The right hon. Gentleman also asked whether an adjournment would introduce a delay in protecting a child. We would expect a court to adjourn a hearing only if it considered it safe to do so. The only way to avoid the potential for a section 37 direction to be made at a hearing involving unrepresented parents would be by providing legal aid for all private law children cases, which we believe would be a disproportionate response. There is already the potential for section 37 directions to be made in cases involving litigants in person under the present system, but as I have said, legal aid is available and will be in future to challenge such a direction.

A significant number of comments were made in relation to amendment 74. The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) indicated that he will want to press it to a Division, so I will spend some time on it. I agree that it is an important matter. He said that he understands our intent. Does he understand that we need to have savings in legal aid? I am not sure what he meant when he said that he understands our intent—

[Interruption.]

He says that he will address that in a later debate, but I think that it is quite an important issue. In contrast to what he said, his right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State recognised in an article published only this morning that

“cuts need to be made”.

Looking at the amendments tabled by Opposition Members, I cannot see where those cuts will be made. We have had a little look at what they are proposing. The estimated costs of the Opposition amendments are: £20 million in debt matters, £5 million in employment matters, £15 million in housing matters, £25 million in welfare benefits matters, £10 million in clinical negligence matters and £170 million in family law matters. The total is £245 million. The taxpayer deserves to know where the money for that will come from.

Let me address the actual effect of amendment 74. To set out in the Bill the circumstances as specified in the amendment that should be accepted as evidence of domestic violence for the purposes of legal aid for the victim in a private family law case would mean that those circumstances, but not those that the Government intend to accept as evidence of domestic violence, would be set out in primary legislation. The Government would therefore have no power at all to amend those circumstances through secondary legislation. They would be in addition to any circumstances set out in secondary legislation for providing appropriate evidence of abuse. We expect that significantly more cases would receive funding if the circumstances set out in either amendment were accepted as evidence. The hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) and others mentioned their concern about the issue of incentives for false allegations of domestic violence, but we received a significant number of responses to the consultation which expressed concern that there might be a rise in unfounded allegations of domestic violence, and the respondents expressing such concerns included the Law Society and the Bar Council.

Fiona Mactaggart: The hon. Gentleman is concerned that there might be a rise in unfounded allegations of domestic violence, but does he accept that if his proposals go through there will be an increase in the number of women who are victims of domestic violence and unable to access legal aid?

Mr Djanogly: No. Our proposals are aimed at ensuring that those who are subjected to domestic violence are those who are kept within the scope of legal aid.

Many hon. Members have said, “Shouldn’t any incident of abuse trigger legal aid?” Some have said that we should limit it, and the hon. Member for Hammersmith has put in certain but, given his amendment, not very many limitations. The hon. Member for Edinburgh East accused me of being obsessed with false claims. I am not, but we need to appreciate that such a provision would have serious financial consequences, as it would lead to funding in cases in which the abusive behaviour, although unacceptable, might be very marginal.

Clearly, a single incident of abuse can be very serious, but a single one-off incident of non-physical abuse, such as angry and upsetting words spoken during an argument, can be relatively minor, because they have no real effect on the victim’s ultimate ability to face the other party in proceedings.

On amendment 74, specifically, my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon, my right hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) and my hon. Friends the Members for Ipswich and for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) asked whether we would accept undertakings given in civil proceedings as evidence of domestic violence, and I will look at that issue further. The Government’s current position is that a person can give an undertaking, for instance not to be violent towards family members, without admitting to domestic violence, meaning that undertakings may be given in cases where domestic violence has not taken place. We do not think that undertakings would provide sufficiently clear objective evidence that domestic violence has occurred, but we shall look into that further.

My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald also asked whether the fact that the definition of abuse is not specific will make its use more difficult in court, but the definition in the Bill will not be used in proceedings for domestic violence orders under the Family Law Act 1996. There is no definition at all of domestic violence in the 1996 Act, but the courts have experienced no difficulties, so neither the Bill’s definition nor the ACPO definition will be used in such proceedings.

The hon. Member for Hammersmith discussed a finding of fact in a family law court, and he asked how people would get legal aid in that context. They will not get legal aid to bring the case, as legal aid will be triggered only when the court has made a finding of fact, but an applicant will be able to submit written evidence of any abuse if relevant to proceedings, and a judge will be able to intervene to prevent inappropriate questioning.

Several hon. Members, including the hon. Gentleman, made a series of points about the specifics of amendment 74, so let me deal with those, including what would be accepted from various people as evidence in order to qualify for domestic violence. Accepting police cautions would be inconsistent with our proposal to include in the criteria “criminal convictions unless that conviction is spent”, as simple cautions are not convictions and become spent immediately.

A harassment warning is notice that a complaint has been received by the police; it is not considered to be proof that an offence has occurred, and police are not obliged to investigate the allegation. We therefore do not consider that harassment warnings would provide sufficiently clear objective evidence that domestic violence has occurred.

8.15 pm

On police investigations or call-outs, we do not consider that an investigation by the police or the police having been called out would provide sufficiently clear objective evidence that domestic violence has occurred. The call-out or the investigation could be inconclusive, or the police might determine that domestic violence has not taken place, but any such evidence could be taken into account by a court when assessing whether abuse has occurred, and if it goes on to make an injunction or a finding of fact that it has, and the victim is at risk, legal aid will be available, so all those sources of evidence could be factors in triggering legal aid, even if not they are sufficient in and of themselves.

The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland discussed whether we should accept admission to a refuge, and other hon. Members might have made the point as well, but we are concerned that to include admission to a refuge in the criteria would be to rely on self-reporting and to place pressure on those organisations that provide refuges. Their assistance might be sought with greater frequency if they had a role in triggering access to legal aid.

The hon. Member for Hammersmith and others asked whether we would accept evidence from medical professionals, but we are not convinced that they would be best placed to assess whether domestic violence has occurred. They might witness injuries, but it might be difficult for them to determine how they had occurred, and again there would be strong elements of self-reporting, rather than objective evidence. Evidence from medical professionals could, however, depending on the circumstances and on a judge’s assessment, lead in the family courts to a finding of fact that domestic violence has occurred, and that would trigger funding.

Another hon. Member asked whether victims of domestic violence and their children could be cross-examined by the perpetrator, but judges have the powers and the training to manage the situation and to ensure that it is handled sensitively for the person giving evidence. For example, judges can have questions relayed to witnesses, rather than asked directly; they can use video-links; and they can intervene to prevent inappropriate questions. Under the current legal aid system, that is often the case and often has to happen.

The hon. Member for Hammersmith stated that only a minority of women apply to the courts for a protective injunction against domestic violence, because, for instance, they do not trust the judicial system, so they will not get legal aid. Domestic violence is of course a very serious issue, and of course victims need support in all sorts of ways, but there is a distinction between all victims of domestic violence and those who seek to take legal action in the family courts in relation to child contact or financial issues. Such women are prepared to go to court, and they may well be more likely to apply for an injunction.

The right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd and others suggested that, for the Government, money comes before safety, but that is entirely rejected. Yes, we do have to make savings from a legal aid system that costs this country £2.2 billion a year, and we are proposing £350 million of savings during this savings period, but we will spend an estimated £120 million a year on private family law, including domestic violence, after the changes. As I said earlier, this includes funding for about a quarter of the private family law cases that currently receive legal aid.

I think it was the hon. Member for Hammersmith who said that women would often not do anything about domestic violence for fear of jeopardising their immigration status. I made some remarks about this earlier, and I shall not repeat them, but those are the cases that we are going to bring back into scope through Government amendments 59 and 63.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) said that 61% of immigration appeals were successful, and that that demonstrated a need for legal aid for such cases. However, most appeals are factual and are not brought on points of law. I said to him earlier that I would consider further the question of complex cases, and I will come back to him on that.

Sir Alan Beith: What that 61% success rate on appeal demonstrates is a bad decision-making system. Ought not the Minister to be more sympathetic to the Justice Committee’s view that Departments that make their decisions so badly as to generate large numbers of successful appeals should be penalised, perhaps even to the extent of contributing to a fund for the advice agencies that help the people who are affected?

Mr Djanogly: My right hon. Friend makes a good point. High levels of successful appeals perhaps show that too many cases are going before the tribunals in the first place. The other day, I saw a figure of something like 80% for special educational needs tribunals, which was not very impressive either. I can also tell him that I am personally engaging with Ministers in the Home Office, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Education with the specific intention of getting them to work with the Department of Justice to improve their initial decision making. I am pleased to say that they are all are working with us, and that they want to make the system better. This is a matter of significant concern to me, not least because I would like to see fewer appeals relating to my Department coming through the courts and tribunals.

The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) talked about domestic violence, immigration and legal aid. She also talked about people who fall outside the domestic violence immigration rule, such as EEA nationals. As I mentioned earlier, we are looking at cases of EEA spouses who have suffered dramatic abuse. The right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd mentioned immigration judicial reviews. I think that he accused the Government of putting appellants into a Catch-22 situation because legal aid would not be available for immigration appeals or for some judicial reviews. I can tell him, however, that people will still be able to appeal immigration decisions themselves and, as is often the case at the moment, they will still be able to get legal aid for a subsequent judicial review, as long as it is not on exactly the same or substantially similar issues, or on a removal direction. As I said earlier, we are making various exceptions to the exclusions, which will include ensuring that, when there has been no possibility of an appeal, legal aid will remain for judicial review.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark raised various points about immigration, and I will write to him about those. He specifically mentioned children, as did other hon. Members, so I shall briefly address that point. In most immigration cases, a child’s interests are represented by their parent or guardian. Most cases in which a child is unaccompanied involve an asylum claim, and legal aid will remain for those cases as at present. Unaccompanied children with an asylum or immigration issue would have a social worker assigned to them, whose role would include helping the child to gain access to the same advice and support as a child who was permanently settled in the UK. They could also offer assistance with filling in forms and explaining terms, and give emotional support. Legal support in such immigration cases may be found, if needed, from law centres and from pro bono legal representation. The Refugee Council provides services for separated children, which can include litigation friends.

A number of hon. Members asked how we could justify plans that could disproportionately affect women. That question has also been asked in relation to disabled people, ethnic minorities and people who live in rural areas. The equalities impact assessment, published alongside the Government’s response to consultation, sets out our analysis of how the reforms will affect people with protected characteristics as set out in the Equality Act 2010. We have identified the potential for the reforms to have a greater impact on some groups, but we believe that those impacts are proportionate, and justified by the need to meet our objectives, including the pressing need to make savings from legal aid. We are also keeping discrimination claims relating to a contravention of the Equality Act 2010 within the scope of legal aid, which we consider will make a significant contribution to the fulfilment of our public sector equality duty.

The hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston asked about the removal of legal aid in many family cases, which she said would have the effect of removing access to justice from many people. She asked how that could be right. Legal aid will remain available for family mediation and private family law cases, including private law children and family proceedings and ancillary relief proceedings. We want to encourage more use of such mediation. Also, in ancillary relief cases, courts will be able to make orders for payment against a third party or a party who has the means to fund the costs of representation for the other party. Also, removing costly and often unnecessary legal aid does not mean removing access to justice. Litigants in person already feature in the justice system. Judges and magistrates currently assist litigants in person without compromising their impartiality, and we expect that to continue.

Finally, I was asked whether we expect all cases to be resolved through mediation. As I said earlier, the answer is categorically no. Cases involving domestic violence and child abuse, and emergency cases will still not be required to go through mediation. In addition, exceptional funding will be available when necessary for the UK to meet its international and domestic legal obligations via a proposed scheme for excluded cases. On that note, I rest my case.

| Hansard



Jonathan's Campaigns

Fair Votes for All Petition

A428 Petition

A14

Broadband Access

Cotton Farm Wind Farm

Hinchingbrooke Hospital

Local Post Offices

 

Search this site

Accessibility