Hackney lawyer's death inspires fundraising blitz for domestic abuse victims
- Credit: Wendy Pye
Friends of a Hackney lawyer who died suddenly last year aged 53 raised £1,650 for charity in a 7.2km charity walk across East London.
Ann Bibby, who specialised in family law at Trayman’s LLP, fought to help domestic abuse victims get access to legal aid - which became especially difficult after Government cuts in 2012.
Her friends Wendy Pye, Nick Mathiason and Susannah Strong are carrying on her cause by raising funds to support those who may need such aid in the future.
Wendy said: “Ann was passionate about everyone’s right to legal representation.
“In the last ten years of her career she struggled because of all the cuts as she was unable to represent the people she had early on - it was a significant cause of distress for her.”
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act of 2012 (LASPO), introduced funding cuts to legal aid, affecting both those trying to access representation and lawyers wishing to do legal aid work.
According to Hackney-based family law barrister Jenny Beck QC, under LASPO, 80 per cent of legal aid for family cases was removed and the fees paid to solicitors - which had been stationary since the 1990s - had a 10pc additional cut, meaning fewer lawyers are able to provide legal aid.
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Jenny said: “This means there is an access to justice crisis. Nobody can afford to run a business with the rates of pay on offer.”
Currently domestic abuse victims are subject to a means test when applying for legal aid, but Jenny alleges there is cross-party recognition that this system is not working as there are people below the breadline who fall outside eligibility. It also fails to disregard “trapped capital” - assets victims share with abusers and therefore cannot access.
A lawyer working in Hackney Community Law Centre who would often refer family law cases to Ann, Diane Morrison, told this paper the government needs to review the current legal aid system.
She said: “Not only are people not able to afford legal help, there are services that now cannot operate.”
Though there is an eligibility waiver for domestic abuse victims applying for a protective order, there is a taper if someone earns over a certain income - the threshold for this is quite low, according to Jenny, resulting in many victims having to pay a hefty financial contribution.
She said: “This provides a barrier to access to justice for quite a lot of people.
“The rule of law says we have to have an equal right to access any laws that do exist. We don’t have that.”
The inspiration behind the charity initiative in Ann’s name came from a gathering held at Biddle's pub in Hackney after her death where her friends spoke about the need for “more Anns” in the world to do what she did for victims, particularly given the LASPO cuts and the rise in domestic abuse during the pandemic.
They are aiming to initially raise around £15,000 from various fundraising events to start funding a part-time lawyer to help those suffering from domestic abuse access legal aid.
Though Jenny praised the idea of setting up a legacy for Ann, she stressed the importance of continued pressure on the government to make legal aid more accessible.
She said: “We’ve got to have laws that are accessible to everybody and legal aid is how that happens so we need to keep challenging the government to change the means test system and to make sure they’re paying lawyers enough to administer a sensible justice programme.
“We need to not give up until that is achieved.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson released a statement for this paper, which said: “While more than 95 per cent of applications for legal aid in domestic abuse cases are successful, we are reviewing the means test to see how we can best support victims.
“In addition to this, the Domestic Abuse Act will transform our response to this terrible crime - redefining economic abuse, improving protection for victims and bringing more perpetrators to justice.”
To donate to the cause, visit: https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-people-with-experience-of-domestic-abuse