The government has announced it is to make just under £900,000 available in grants to provide in-court support to victims of domestic abuse.
Scheduled to run until 31st March 2020, the funds have been awarded to two organisations, the Personal Support Unit (PSU) and the Citizens Advice Witness Service, who offer support service to victims in around 40 family courts across the UK.
Reduced availability of legal aid is resulting in increasing numbers of people facing the family and civil courts alone and without professional advice and guidance.
The PSU is believed to be using the funding to invest in further training of their staff and volunteers and to share learnings on best practice with a range of family justice stakeholders.
Citizens Advice will be “using the funding to extend their current Witness Service to selected family courts to provide information and practical and emotional support to victims before, during and after the hearing”.
Currently, the Witness Service only supports witnesses in criminal proceedings but the grant will be used to extend this support to selected family courts.
While the £900,000 figure clearly pales against the £350 million annual savings from the legal aid cuts, it is not clear whether the grants will continue beyond next March.
Not all domestic abuse victims will benefit from the grant. Access to the in-court services will become a postcode lottery since the PSU provides its services in only 24 family courts across England and Wales and Citizens Advice Witness Service operates in a maximum of just 12 family courts.
The grant follows the draft Domestic Abuse Bill and consultation response published on 21 January 2019 pledging more support to vulnerable victims of domestic abuse. Calls are being made for further reform to UK legislation to better protect and support victims of domestic abuse through the legal system.