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    Mark Groves CEO speaks to BBC Radio 5 Live

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    Mark Groves CEO speaks to BBC Radio 5 Live


    Extract from the BBC website, the full article can be found here

    Mark Groves CEO speaks to BBC Radio 5 Live 1
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    Domestic abuse victims in England have been unable to get emergency court orders stopping their abusers from harming them, an organisation has said.

    The National Centre for Domestic Violence said 6,000 victims were denied free legal representation last year.

    Legal Aid applicants for non-molestation orders are means tested and often told to pay towards the cost.

    The government said it was making it easier for domestic violence victims to prove they needed Legal Aid.

    Family home

    The National Centre for Domestic Violence told BBC Radio 5 live Investigates that the problem arises when they appear to have money or assets of their own.

    It said too many women were turned away because they appeared to own assets or savings that were actually under the control of their abusers.

    Mark Groves, who is the company’s chief executive said: “While many people think Legal Aid is free, it is not, you have to pay a means-tested contribution.

    “Economic abuse victims who don’t control their money may not have this [and] those who have fled the family home may not have the right documentation.

    “If you own a house, you have to put down a cash deposit equal to the equity in that house, which could be hundreds of thousands,” he explained.

    Mum-of-two Alice, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, was granted legal aid to secure a non-molestation order after she told police about years of violence inflicted by her husband.

    But after getting the injunction she said the Legal Aid Agency got back in touch to say she had not qualified for free legal representation and she was handed the bill.

    “I got a letter saying the injunction would cost me £6,000,” she said.

    “I was in tears when they told me, it was a complete shock.

    “The only way I’d be able to pay that money was to get a loan I couldn’t afford, or to sell my house and move back in with my mum,” she added.

    Alice is now appealing against the decision but said if she had known from the outset she would have to pay she would not have proceeded.

    She added: “If I was told that I’d have to pay £6,000 I’d never have gone through with the process, and I’d have had no choice in letting my abuser back into my life.”

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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.”