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Government U-turn over legal aid

The Government has made a major U-turn on its justice reforms by making it easier for the victims of domestic violence to claim legal aid.

Ministers faced criticism that their reforms would make it too difficult for women abused by their husbands and boyfriends to get the advice they needed as the definition of domestic violence was too narrow.

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke said the Government was amending the Government's Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill to make it easier for women to receive the taxpayer-funded support they need.

Any victim whose partner or ex-partner has a caution for violence against them will be entitled to aid, while a note from a GP will also entitle women to support. Mr Clarke told the House of Commons the changes were "fairly formidable".

Under the Government's original plans, only women who had pursued their domestic violence case through the courts would be able to claim legal aid.

But campaigners said that many women were too scared to make a complaint to police for fear of reprisals and so would be unable to claim the legal support they needed.

Mr Clarke said the Government acknowledged some women might be forced to make a formal complaint when they did not want to. He added: "The Government has responded because of our concern on domestic violence pretty generously."

He told the Commons the Government would be adopting the Association of Chief Police Officers definition of domestic violence, which not only includes physical abuse, but emotional and psychological harm as well.

Women admitted to a refuge and those receiving social services support will also be entitled to claim legal aid.

Mr Clarke made the U-turn following a series of defeats in the House of Lords. But he insisted the Government would not be making any further concessions. "We have moved in key areas beyond where we were and this evening we have to insist that is where we will end," he said.

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