Category Archives: Legal aid cuts and domestic violence
Diana Nammi, IKWRO’s Executive Director was one of the women invited by the Prime Minister, David Cameron to speak with him about isolation of Muslim women last week.
Diana advised the Prime Minister that the UK government must stop tolerating discrimination of Muslim women and end all barriers to to equality and access to justice and human rights.
Law Society responds to women’s rights activists with apology and withdrawal of its endorsement of discriminatory Sharia law
Diana Nammi, Executive Director of the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO) is available for interview.
On 24 November 2014, the eve of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, following a long campaign by women’s rights activists, the Law Society, the professional body for solicitors in England and Wales, announced that it has withdrawn its guidance on Sharia succession rules which discriminate against women and some children and has appologised.
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.
Last week the UN agency for women launched its first report. Progress of the World’s Women: In Pursuit of Justice takes a brave and broad look at women’s access to around the world, covering issues such as domestic violence, rape and discrimination.
The report also charts some of the important reforms that recent years have brought, but highlights the need for further progress. For example while 52 countries have made marital rape a crime during the last century, more than 2.6 billion women still live in countries without this legal protection.
The report makes 10 recommendations to improve women’s access to justice, including support for specialised women’s services and legal organisations, reforming laws that discriminate against women, training judges in women’s rights and monitoring judicial decisions.
Here in the UK, In Pursuit of Justice comes at an appropriate time. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment Bill currently making its way through our parliament will limit access to justice for women who have faced domestic violence in several ways.
Firstly it will leave many women who have experienced domestic abuse unable to get legal aid for matters such as child custody or financial support. This will mean that they will have to represent themselves, and could end up being cross examined by their abuser. Inevitably it will mean that many women simply avoid the courts, to the detriment of them and their children.
Secondly, the Bill will also cut legal aid for women making applications under the ‘domestic violence rule’. 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 are complex and have to be completed within a very limited time frame. The woman also has to produce various pieces of evidence, all at a time when she is trying to get her life back together.
IKWRO usually links women with a legal aid solicitor to help them through the process. If the reforms go ahead women will have to do the application on their own. Strict controls on who can give immigration advice mean that organisations like IKWRO will not be able to advise these women without breaking the law.
IKWRO and many other women’s organisations took part in a recent Ministry of Justice consultation on the reform of legal aid but the Ministry of Justice has not listened. We are campaigning for amendments to the bill before it is voted into law. Last week we met with MP Bridget Phillipson to raise our concerns. Bridget, who previously ran a women’s shelter, has promised to raise the issue in parliament.
We have also contacted conservative MPs who have shown commitment to fighting violence against women, including Eleanor Laing, Nicola Blackwood and Sarah Wollaston. We are urging them to take action against these proposals and the impact they will have on access to justice for victims of domestic violence.
If you live in the UK you can support our campaign and protect access to justice for women who have faced domestic violence by emailing your MP. See here for a template letter and simple instructions on how to contact your MP.
Please take two minutes to email your MP today. Together we can stop these proposals.