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Parliamentary debates and questions

S5W-02996: Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands)

Scottish Liberal Democrats

Date lodged: 20 September 2016

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on ending means-testing of legal support and services in the context of domestic abuse.

Answered by: Michael Matheson 29 September 2016

Domestic abuse is an abhorrent crime which causes devastating effects on victims and their families. The Scottish Government recognises that ensuring that women are able to access appropriate and timely legal advice to safeguard their interests and apply for protection of the civil law where necessary is vital. That is why we continue to invest in the Scottish Women’s Right Centre, which included £215,000 for the funding period 1 March 2015 – 30 September 2016, to ensure that women in Scotland affected by gender based violence have timely access to legal advice and representation in ways best suited to their circumstances.

Following the judgement in WF v Scottish Ministers [2016] CSOH 27, the Scottish Government has made a determination so that non-means tested legal aid is available to any person, including complainers in domestic abuse cases, whose sensitive records are potentially going to be disclosed in a criminal case. This is to ensure access to justice as the court considers whether disclosure is necessary.

It is the case that the introduction of non-means tested legal support has been considered previously by Parliament. This was in the context of consideration of the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill in 2011. This Member’s Bill included at introduction provision for non-means tested legal aid for people seeking a civil protection order to protect against domestic abuse. Parliament took the view that such an approach did not represent the best use of scarce public resources. In particular, it was noted that such an approach would give rise to an inequality of arms argument which meant that non-means tested legal aid would likely also have to be granted to those defending an action. There was also questions raised about the domestic abuse cases being treated differently from other cases within the legal aid system and about how the proposal would work when a court action covers a domestic abuse civil protection order and other matters such as divorce, or contact and residence orders. In light of these concerns, Parliament decided to remove the relevant provisions at Stage two of the Bill process.