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Community / Island victims of domestic abuse disadvantaged by justice system

THE ISLAND-specific obstacles for victims of domestic abuse in finding access to appropriate legal representation have been highlighted in the Scottish Parliament.

Currently, women struggle to get legal support in Shetland for domestic abuse cases including harassment and exclusion orders.

Shetland Women’s Aid said that too often service users find they are either ineligible for legal aid or that legal help simply is not available in Shetland.

Legal aid is the support people can sometimes get when they cannot afford to pay their own legal costs.

Service manager Laura Stronach said: “When they do access support, they report that there is often a lack of understanding of the complexity and power dynamics in domestic abuse cases which makes it difficult for solicitors to fairly represent their Shetland clients.”

The issue was raised by local MSP Beatrice Wishart in parliament during a session on justice questions earlier this week.

Responding the local MSP’s questions, victims and community safety minister Siobhian Brown said that civil legal aid was made available to around 70 per cent of domestic abuse cases in Scotland.

However, she did not respond to the island specific element raised by Wishart.

The Lib Dem MSP reacted by saying that victims of domestic abuse should not be in a situation where they feel let down by the justice system.

“Domestic abuse is a particularly heinous crime, and speaking out and breaking away from an abuser should not be hampered by concerns that the legal system is unsupportive,” she said.

“Access to legal support should be equal and flexible to overcome geography and individual financial situations. Everyone deserves professional assistance to navigate the legal system.”

Stronach added: “We know that, in Shetland, almost all the women who come to us for support when they are victims of domestic abuse find it extremely difficult to access the legal services they need to protect themselves and their children.

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“At Shetland Women’s Aid we are trying to overcome this by contributing our service user’s voices to a project called ‘Challenging the central belt default; Modelling domestic abuse legal services for rural and island communities’.

“Access to legal aid is just one of the support services women and children experiencing domestic abuse in Shetland need to recover and thrive in the future.”

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