CUTS to legal aid are putting mothers fleeing domestic violence through more trauma, says the chief of a women’s refuge in Swindon.

Legal aid spending in Swindon has fallen by more than £2.5m in civil cases and £350,000 on criminal cases since 2011/12, according to research carried out by the BBC’s Shared Data Unit.

Cuts to the legal aid budget since 2013 has meant cases like domestic violence, divorce, welfare benefits and housing, don’t qualify for financial support to cover legal costs except in a limited number circumstances.

“The cuts on legal aid have had a major effect on domestic abuse victims locally and nationally,” said Olwen Kelly, director of Swindon Women’s Aid.

“As a result of those we are seeing women in the family courts not being able to have any legal representation.

“A lot of them are going into court having to represent themselves, but not fully understanding the legal terminology and doing themselves no justice.

“The really horrifying aspect of changes to legal aid within the family court is this ridiculous and highly traumatic experience of victims being questioned by their abusers. That is down to the fact that many victims cannot afford to have that legal representation.

“It’s a failure in the justice system, we are failing to protect the most vulnerable people in our society ultimately. These cuts are really biting, and the victims are paying the price for it.”

“We’re cutting and cutting and it’s a false economy because we’re ending up spending more money down the line. Whereas if we support victims in the first place, in the long-term that will save us money, because it will stop the revolving-door effect.”

Michelle Bowyer, a solicitor on the family team at Bevir’s Law in Royal Wootton Bassett, added:

“I don’t doubt there are serious injustices in the family court because people are unrepresented. Children are suffering as a result.

“I’m finding that parents are fighting their own legal battles and it affects the whole family.

“Before 2013 we had a busy legal aid department, we could take on divorce cases, but now I see many litigants who are floundering in family court representing themselves.

“They have to come in with a letter from their doctor, but many people don’t have that evidence, so they don’t qualify for legal aid.”

The BBC's Shared Data Unit found that a million fewer claims for legal aid are being processed each year and more than 1,000 solicitors across the UK have stopped taking on legal aid cases.

The number of solicitor’s firms in the South West offering legal aid has almost halved since 2012, dropping from 327 in 2011/12 to just 197 in 2017/18.