Monday, 31 October 2011

Violence at Home

And so to Parliament again to hear about the impact of Legal Aid cuts on victims of domestic violence in a report by that very British group, the Women's Institute.

Jean suffered domestic violence 40 years ago. Her husband and assailant was a wealthy man. He held her under his sway. He put her in the hospital, and were it not for Legal Aid she would not have obtained her divorce or custody of the children. Her husband was convicted of causing GBH. She tells us that without Legal Aid, she would have gone home to the man who put her in intensive care.

Sam learnt that her partner had been convicted of tying up and raping a child. When she asked him to go he refused to do so. Eventually he went to prison for what she saw as an attempt to kill her by stabbing or breaking of the neck after she'd put the kids to bed. He went to prison, but for years after he stalked her, even in Court. She says that without a doubt she would now be dead if she had not been able to get help from the Courts.

Claudia managed to escape, but has to tolerate her daughter asking why her dad, who has contact with their daughter regularly, tells her that Claudia's not her mum. “You're white and she's black” he says. A wise child knows her own father I think, but most know their mother.

The proposed Legal Aid cuts are catastrophic.

If, in the last 12 months you have managed to get the man who used to hit you into prison or get him on trial, if you have managed to get any judge anywhere to state on the record that your allegations of domestic violence are proven, then you will get a service. If it happened more than a year later you won't get any help if psycho husband turns up.

If you manage to get a social worker concerned about the impact of the domestic violence that's good. If the police and the social workers have a meeting and declare that you are likely to suffer GBH or something worse that will help to get you a service.

Good luck with that then.

To get Legal Aid for domestic violence it is not sufficient to walk into a police station with a black eye. Convictions for rapists and assailants are very low. But if you have managed to achieve a conviction against your assailant in the last 12 months (no longer) you could get Legal Aid.

The government line is that objective evidence must be obtained that the woman is at a high risk of violence. The matter is being debated as we speak. But as anyone who knows anything about domestic violence will tell you, often the only witnesses to violent events are the victim and the perpetrator. Victims feel undermined and isolated, hiding their bruises, failing to report their rapes. They are cowed, they blame themselves.

One survey found that 70% of women in refuges failed to report their abuse to the police. With pitiful conviction rates for offences like rape, you can see their point.

The government's adoption of a new definition of domestic violence for which funding will be available will prevent many domestic violence victims, as recognised by by the Association of Chief Police Officers, from getting Legal Aid and thus they will have to represent themselves. They will have to be subjected to cross-examination by their assailants, something which in criminal rape trials is becoming a thing of the past.

Baroness Scotland, the Shadow Attorney General, tells us that in the last government domestic violence was reduced by 65%, constituting a saving of £7.5 billion pounds in social costs. It seems that this trend will now go into reverse.

In the debates the Legal Aid Minister Jonathan Djanogly states "I am not questioning the integrity of genuine victims. However, many people during the legal aid consultation were concerned about providing an incentive for unfounded allegations and the government shares this concern."

What really? The 5,000 response to the consultation included a significant response from rational people who felt it was too easy for battered women to get Legal Aid. I rather doubt that.

My brain fries at a certain point. I don't do family law, I just smell something that's not right. Justice doesn't smell like this. Not right, not fair.

Write to your MP. It takes 30 seconds on Justice for All's website

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Cancer: LSC doesn't give ATOS

Hard core devotees will remember the case of Annie who was refused benefits although she had cancer. For the rest of you here's a refresher.

It had a happy ending. We went to the Tribunal twice, but she got her benefits reinstated. Even better, an appointment with a British doctor was likely to be made soon, and there was every hope that she would start getting help from the NHS she so badly needed.

So I shut the case down, bundled it up and sent the file off to the Legal Services Commission for them to look at my bill.

A few weeks ago they wrote back saying they weren't going to pay me for 80% of my work because since the LSC won't pay for advocacy in the Tribunals (I was doing that bit for free) they would not pay for preparation for the hearing.

Never mind that we won and righted a great wrong. Never mind that this interpretation of the rules was counter to the last 10 Tribunal cases we had done. Never mind that this Legal Aid Funding has always been for all steps up to but excluding the actual hearing.

I only had 14 days to appeal. My appeal is late.

While my fortnight was ticking by we helped scores of people in danger of losing their homes, met immigration appeal deadlines of a week or less, housed homeless families at the 11th hour. My partner was in hospital, my secretary's daughter was in the hospital, we spent the time we had to help real people with real problems.

And now it seems we won't get paid for the work we did for Annie.

In a last ditch experiment I shall be sending our appeal late, and attaching copies of this blog. I shall be appealing to their humanity and British common sense. Then I shan't be holding my breath.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Gerrymandering Homeless Children

Henrietta left her council flat when her husband got a job abroad in Las Vegas. It seemed like a logical choice at the time. They were both going to make it big.

For a while everything was good. Her husband had a dream job, they were going to have a baby.

But when the child came along their relationship crumbled. Some men can't cope with proper responsibility. Having a real baby, shitting and grizzling is stressful- and some men can't take it. I guess they think of their dicks as a magic wand that has no payback.

When their marriage broke down, when her husband stopped paying for housekeeping for his kid, when she didn't have diapers or food, she realised that this man was no good for her or her baby, so she went home to the UK.

She stayed with a friend in Westminster, poshest of boroughs. After six months of ignoring her when she came asking for help and advice, Westminster booked her in to one of the two hotels that they have bought in Hackney.

Then Westminster told her that it was her fault that she had not hired a US lawyer to protect her interests, told her that it was her fault that her marriage broke down, that she was homeless. Told her that it was unacceptable that she should come home and ask for help for her and her baby.

And then Westminster evicted her.

And because the homeless child is now present in Hackney- where Westminster dumped the family- it so happens that social services in a poor East London borough now have to pick up the tab, try to work out how to stop Henrietta's baby being put on the street, or taken into care.

Well we got an injunction over the phone from a High Court Judge. Henrietta and her baby have an overpriced room in a hostel where the linen hasn't been changed, and both of them are eaten alive by bed bugs. The case is ongoing.

Meanwhile Westminster continues to keep its rates low by shipping unemployed people into Hackney and the East End, dumping them on our social services, and getting away scot free, smelling of roses.

Smelling of roses to the well-heeled residents of Westminster perhaps. Get rid of the poor unfortunates, send them to us. To me it smacks of gerrymandering.

Some of you with long memories will remember Dame Shirley Porter, fined millions of pounds unfairly (some might say) for trying to socially engineer the right sort of tenants and the right sort of voters in Westminster, so that we have the right sort of people in a Tory flagship borough.

This week Westminster trumpeted that it was going to give increased priority on its council flat waiting list to people with jobs because they want to reduce their Housing Benefit bill. So millionaire's row will be sending its single parents and its disabled elsewhere.

Under the new dispensation it's respectable to send people like Henrietta and her baby into poor boroughs to enable the rich boroughs to reduce their rates still further. I don't know about you, but I find the naked cynicism predictable and disgusting.