Under this rule women who come to the UK on a spousal visa but then face domestic violence can leave their marriage and apply for permission to stay in the UK in their own right. Applications under the rule are complex and have to be completed within strict time limits. IKWRO was worried that without legal aid many women would be unable to apply. In March we voiced our concerns as part of a Ministry of Justice consultation on legal aid, along with dozens of other women’s organisations. More recently we have been working with MPs such as Bridget Phillipson, who previously ran a women’s shelter, to raise the issue in parliament.
“After further consideration we accept that there is a real risk that, without legal aid, people will stay trapped in abusive relationships out of fear of jeopardising their immigration status. The type of trauma that they might have suffered will often make it difficult to cope with such applications. We also appreciate that people apply under great pressure of time, and access to a properly designated immigration adviser is a factor. We intend to table a Government amendment to bring such cases into scope at a later stage.”
This is an amazing campaign victory which will make an enormous difference to the women we work with. The domestic violence rule is a vital lifeline for women who cannot return to their home countries, for example because they may face further violence there or because they would have to leave their children behind. Now that we know women applying under the domestic violence rule will still get legal aid, all of us at IKWRO can breathe a big sigh of relief.
At the same time, this early victory doesn’t mean the end of campaigning on legal aid. Problems remain in relation to family law and domestic violence, and the bill still excludes women who have been trafficked for sexual exploitation and other vulnerable women from accessing legal aid. With colleagues at Rights of Women and other women’s organisations, we will continue campaigning on these issues so we can ensure that all women who have experienced violence have access to justice.