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    Changes at the top of The National Centre for Domestic Violence

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    Changes at the top of The National Centre for Domestic Violence

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    Dr Steve Connor OBE, founder of The National Centre for Domestic Violence, becomes NCDV Chair as the organisation restructures to face today’s challenges.

    With growing numbers of referrals from the police and other agencies nationally and the ongoing obstacles and threats to access to justice for those needing to protect themselves and their families, NCDV is restructuring to ensure that they can provide the best possible service to all of those seeking help regardless of their ability to pay.

    Mark Groves will take over as CEO bringing 8 years of coalface experience in helping and supporting victims. As Head of Operations Mark has managed the organisation on a day to day basis. His vision is to ensure a joined up service across the whole country so that there is a streamlined referral and support service for anyone suffering domestic abuse irrespective of means or postcode. Dr Connor confirmed “ With the diversity of service we now provide it makes sense to put in place a new top management structure. My position will change to one of Non-Executive Chairman guiding NCDV within the core principals we have always had in place.”

    Mark said “ Steve has passed to me a huge responsibility which I take extremely seriously, victims need a slick system to enable them to obtain legal protection as quickly as possible but this needs to be a system that provides them with support and empathy which is a very difficult balancing act. We are lucky to have a fantastic team to help build our great ideas into physical applications that make a real difference.”

    Award winning family lawyer Jenny Beck is joining NCDV in an advisory position as Principal Legal and Ethical Adviser. Mark Groves said “ It is essential that as NCDV gets bigger we understand the legal landscape within which we operate and can be supported to ensure our decisions are made mindful of emerging policy. I have known Jenny for many years, she is well respected and is completely committed to helping victims of domestic violence and abuse.”

    jenny beckJenny Beck is chair of the board of the New Advisory Law Council, the Access to Justice Committee and co chair of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group. Her firm, Beck Fitzgerald, was set up to provide accessible Family Law. She is wholly committed to this area of law and working with all stakeholders to ensure that the best protection possible can be accessed. She will be joining NCDV on a pro bono basis.

    Ms Beck said “I have been working with Mark for a number of years, the work that NCDV does is completely unique and I am very excited to be on board. There are some significant challenges for services to abuse victims at present and it is essential that all stakeholders work together to promote, support and improve access to legal protection”

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    By Fiona Bawden, Times Online (8th May 2007)

    “Steve Connor, a student at City Law School, is a man on a mission. Six years ago he was a fairly directionless 27-year-old. Today, as well as taking the Bar Vocational Course, he is chairman of the National Centre for Domestic Violence, a ground-breaking organisation that he dragged into existence after a friend could not get legal help to protect her from an abusive partner.

    Connor’s route to the Bar has been circuitous. In 2001 he returned from a year in Australia (he says that he would not dignify describing it as a gap year), and took a job as a process server in South London. The job (“I just saw it advertised in the paper”) was not quite as dull as it sounds. On one occasion he was threatened with a machete, on another, he was nearly stabbed by a man he had arranged to meet on Clapham Common to serve with a non-molestation order: “He’d seemed really friendly on the phone…”

    The turning point in his life came when a friend, who was being abused by her partner, turned to him for support. Connor went with her to the police. She did not want to press criminal charges so the police suggested that she visit a solicitor to take out a civil injunction. “We must have seen 12 solicitors in a morning. We just went from one to the next to the next to the next. Everyone was very eager to help until we sat down to fill in the forms for the legal aid means test,” he says. The woman, who had a small child, did not qualify for public funding. But, Connor says, her financial situation as it appeared on paper did not bear any relation to her financial situation in reality. “She had a part-time job and she and her partner owned their home. Yet she didn’t have any money. Her boyfriend was very controlling and controlled all the money; he kept the chequebooks and didn’t let her have access to the bank account.”

    The injustice of the situation got under Connor’s skin. “I just couldn’t believe that there was no help available to people who did not qualify for public funds but could not afford to pay.

    I just kept feeling that this must be able to be sorted if only someone would address it.”That “someone” turned out to be him.

    In 2002, thanks entirely to Connor’s doggedness, the London Centre for Domestic Violence was formed. It started out with him and a friend, but is now a national organisation, covering 27 counties, and has helped approximately 10,000 victims last year to take out injunctions against their partners.

    NCDV now has nine full-time staff, 12 permanent volunteers and has trained over 5000 law and other students as McKenzie Friends to accompany unrepresented victims into court. We have also trained over 8000 police officers in civil remedies available regarding domestic violence. The National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) has branches in London, Guildford and Manchester and is on track to have branches in 16 areas within the next two years.

    NCDV specialises exclusively in domestic violence work and could be characterised as a cross between McDonald’s and Claims Direct. The high degree of specialisation means that its processes are streamlined: clients can be seen quickly and the work is done speedily and cheaply. “Sometimes, we will have one of our trained McKenzie Friends at a court doing 10 applications in one day,” Connor says.

    Clients are not charged for the service. NCDV staff take an initial statement: clients who qualify for legal aid are referred to a local firm; those that don’t get free help from the centre itself. It runs on a shoestring, heavily reliant on volunteers and capping staff salaries at £18,000 a year.

    Steve expects to qualify as a barrister this summer and hopes that having a formal legal qualification will give the centre added clout. “We are already acknowledged as experts and consulted at a high level, so I thought it would be helpful if I could back that up by being able to say I’m a barrister,” he says. He is just about to complete a one-year full-time BVC course at the City Law School (formerly the Inns of Court Law School) and, all being well, should be called to the Bar in July. Although Connor sees his long-term future as a barrister, he says that he has no immediate plans to practise. “I want to get NCDV running on a fully national level. Then I may take a step back and have a career at the Bar.”