VICTIMS of domestic violence should be offered more legal support, a Newport AM has said.

Jayne Bryant, who represents Newport West, was speaking in the Assembly last week after figures by the Ministry of Justice showed 3,234 domestic violence victims were forced to represent themselves in family court hearings in the first nine months of 2017, up from 1,309 five years earlier, as a result of being unable to apply for legal aid – an increase of 147 per cent.

The figures have largely been blamed on cuts to legal aid and on restrictions which meant victims of domestic violence were only able to apply for financial help if they could provide evidence of abuse within the past five years. However this limit was scrapped in December following lobbying by domestic violence charities and other organisations.

Addressing counsel general Jeremy Miles, Labour AM Ms Bryant said: “Last year, the UK Government released statistics showing a shocking rise in the number of domestic violence survivors with no legal representation in family courts.

“The statistics reveal that the number of those having to represent themselves in courts in England and Wales have doubled during the last five years.

“In the first nine months of last year, 3,234 domestic violence survivors had no legal representation in at least one hearing.

“Does the counsel general believe that this worrying rise needs to be addressed by the UK Government, and what representations can he make on cuts to legal aid and its devastating impact?”

Mr Miles replied: “The Welsh Government has taken every opportunity to raise with the UK Government our concerns that access to legal services is currently beyond the means of those victims of crime who have low or modest incomes, and this raises serious issues, both of access to justice and social justice more broadly.”

Calling the situation “a grave injustice”, he added: “Thousands of women find themselves in family courts representing themselves in person against their own abusers.

“That is not something that is permitted any longer in the criminal courts, but it still remains a very real experience for women in the family courts.

“That is because of the withdrawal of legal aid, and although there have been some concessions by the UK Government at the end of last year, they are nowhere near adequate to tackle the scale of the issue.”

Mr Miles also said former communities and children secretary Carl Sargeant, who died in November last year, had written to the UK Government on a number of occasions calling for rules allowing assets which may be under control of the abuser, such as a home, to be taken into account when assessing if legal aid can be applied for, to be overturned.