Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN), the social action arm of the Catholic Church, has urged the Government to ensure that adequate safeguards are in place to protect victims of trafficking and domestic abuse in the proposed reforms to legal aid, on which the Ministry of Justice is currently consulting.
Under the proposals within the Transforming Legal Aid: delivering a more credible and efficient system consultation, a ‘dual residency criteria’ will operate for access to legal aid. This means that a person would need to show that they are (a) lawfully resident in the UK and (b) have been lawfully resident in the UK for twelve consecutive months. However whilst the proposals exempt asylum seekers and armed force personnel from these provisions, the document fails to mention victims of human trafficking or domestic abuse. This has prompted concern from CSAN that these vulnerable individuals, who are primarily although not exclusively women, could be left without any legal representation.
Commenting on the proposals, CSAN’s Public Affairs Officer, Liam Allmark said:
“It is deeply worrying that this consultation fails to mention victims of trafficking and domestic abuse. During the passage of the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, Catholic Charities fought hard to ensure that these safeguards were retained.”
“We hope that this is an oversight and that the government will reaffirm its previous commitment to exempt victims of human trafficking and domestic abuse. Withdrawing legal aid in such cases would amount to a denial of access to justice for those in greatest need of legal support.”
For more information about CSAN’s advocacy work, please contact Liam Allmark at Liam.Allmark@csan.org.uk