Our proposition is simple and compelling: we want to ensure that women and children can access legal advice and representation by offering affordably-priced, non-profit making legal services, provided by qualified solicitors who are experts in this field.
The welfare reforms to Legal Aid in April 2013 have had a devastating effect on women who want to access legal services as a result of harassment, violence or abuse. Many are unable to get Legal Aid, and mainstream legal fees for court representation are simply unaffordable, at an average of £190/hour, plus VAT.
Typical costs for legal proceedings can average £1600 plus VAT. At our hourly rate of £59/hour, this brings the cost down to ca £500. This can make all the difference for women in our client group between staying in a difficult situation and escaping from it to rebuild their lives.
How does it work?
Our Affordable Justice service is led by Sue Sedgwick, a Hull solicitor experienced in family law.
We already work closely with many other agencies and partners across Hull, who are familiar with Legal Aid requirements. They are able to do a significant part of the preparation work with potential clients to ensure they are directed and prepared appropriately. These agencies use an online eligibility calculator to assess individual needs, and refer them to Affordable Justice when they are ineligible for Legal Aid.
When can Affordable Justice help you?
Below are a few examples of situations where women no longer qualify for Legal Aid. At some points, we use the term ‘Public Funding’ which means the same as Legal Aid.
Michelle has been in a relationship for over 10 years and got married four years ago. The couple have three children together aged 6, 7 and 9.
Throughout her relationship with her husband Michelle has been subjected to serious domestic abuse by him. This has included financial abuse (controlling her money), emotional abuse and physical violence. Michelle has contacted the police many times. Her husband has been arrested many times and has received several cautions.
On two occasions, Criminal Court Proceedings have resulted in Michelle’s husband being charged with assaulting her. On both occasions Michelle had serious facial injuries which needed hospital treatment. On these occasions her husband pleaded guilty to assaulting her which means he now has convictions relating to violence towards her.
Two days ago Michelle’s husband came home under the influence of alcohol. He was verbally abusive towards Michelle and made threats to kill her and the children and to burn down the family home. He also smashed the kitchen window, dragged her around by her hair and hit her. Michelle had a black eye and a cut and swollen lip as a result of this incident. The incident occurred in front of all three children.
Michelle was terrified and believed that her life and the lives of her children were in danger. She managed to flee the family home with the children, taking with her absolutely no belongings other than the clothes they were wearing at the time.
Because of Michelle’s circumstances she should be entitled to Legal Aid so that an application can be made on her behalf for a Non-Molestation Order to give her and the children some personal protection. She could also potentially apply for an Occupation Order which means they could return to live in the family home without Michelle’s husband being able to access the property.
However, to satisfy the Legal Aid Agency that she qualifies financially, Michelle has to provide them with various original documents including four months of bank statements, proof of her benefit entitlement and proof of her rent or mortgage. All of these documents must be completely up to date for Michelle to be able to get Public Funding.
Michelle has a Post Office account. She contacts the Post Office but unfortunately they say it will take around 10 days for the documents to be sent to her. Michelle therefore does not have the documents to satisfy the Legal Aid Agency and doesn’t qualify for Public Funding.
Gemma has a three week old baby whom she breastfeeds every few hours. Unfortunately she separated from the baby’s father whilst she was pregnant because they grew apart. They remained on civil terms.
Once the baby was born her former partner came to her home to meet the baby. He promised her that he would be there for her and the baby and wanted to play an active role in the baby’s life. He asked if could go with Gemma to register the baby’s birth and once there he persuaded her to put his name on the birth certificate. By doing this, the baby’s father obtained parental responsibility for the baby.
Yesterday Gemma agreed that her former partner could take the baby out for two hours. However he did not return the baby as agreed. After waiting for a further frantic two hours and after attempting to contact him unsuccessfully several times, Gemma phoned the police. The police did a welfare check and confirmed that the baby was fine and was being fed by formula milk appropriate for his age. They said that, as both parents have parental responsibility, they were equal parents, and that as the baby was well, they did not want to intervene. They left the baby in his father’s care.
Gemma wants to make an urgent application to the Family Court for a Specific Issue Order for the baby to be returned to her care and also for a Prohibited Steps Order to prevent her former partner removing the child from her care without her consent in the future. However Gemma is not entitled to Public Funding. It is no longer available for private children law proceedings unless there is evidence of domestic abuse or that the child is at risk. Gemma does not have the evidence and does not therefore qualify for Public Funding.
Kate has been in a relationship for four years. The couple have two children together aged 2 and 3 years.
During the last six months Kate’s partner has been abusing drugs and alcohol and as a result of this their relationship has broken down. They separated two months ago. Five months ago Kate was physically assaulted by her former partner. She and the children were locked into the family home for several hours and Kate was very frightened. After the incident her partner told her he was sorry and said that he could not live without her and the children. He promised to stop drinking and begged her not to tell anyone and to stay with him.
Four months ago there was a further incident when Kate was hit across the face by her partner in the presence of the children. She told her partner she wanted to separate from him but again he begged her to stay with him. He also told her that if she left him he would kill her and the children.
On the day that they separated Kate waited until her partner was out and then moved out with the children. They moved in with relatives but have now got their own privately rented property.
Immediately following their separation Kate agreed to some contact between her former partner and the children. He has been spending time with the children each weekend.
Today Kate has been served with some Court Papers relating to an Application by her former partner for a Child Arrangement Order for both of the children to reside in his full-time care.
He has alleged that the children are being neglected whilst in Kate’s care and that he has noticed his youngest child has bruising. The matter is listed for an initial hearing at the Family Court in six weeks’ time. Kate does not qualify for Public Funding as she has never reported any of the incidents to the Police, has never disclosed anything to her GP and has never been to a refuge. She doesn’t have the necessary evidence of domestic abuse and therefore can’t access Public Funding.
In all these situations we can help. Please contact us and we will advise you. There is no cost for having a chat about your issue.