The position of the Women’s Policy Group NI is that access to justice is a fundamental right, and there is a duty on the state to ensure access to it, even if that means expense.

At present, legal aid is available but requires an exacting test to secure it, may require a financial contribution that can be an impossible financial burden, and even after that it is difficult to secure a good solicitor who will accept legal aid and can deliver a quality and sensitive service.

Because of women’s economic disadvantage in comparison to men, and because the kinds of cases where civil legal aid may be needed, particularly matters related to family separation, solicitors to help secure protection orders in cases of domestic abuse, and similar kinds of cases, this issue has a distinct impact on women and especially on women who are survivors of VAWG.

For these reasons, we believe that widening eligibility, reducing financial burdens, and securing good quality services are imperative.

In the last number of years, the WPG has carried out a variety of pieces of research that feed directly into the issue raised here; both access to justice and quality of experience in the justice system. We also work closely with Women’s Aid who have carried out extensive focus groups with their service users in preparation for this, and it is clear to us that reform is needed.

This is an excerpt from the WPG NI Response to Foundational Review of Civil Legal Services.