Free legal aid is not provided to all women who have suffered violence as applications are based on financial criteria, resulting in millions of euros remaining unused, MPs heard on Monday.
Serious gaps in the provision of legal aid to women who have been identified by police as victims of violence were revealed during a discussion at the human rights committee, in which women’s organisations and competent institutions and NGOs participated.
Requests for legal assistance by women are subject to financial criteria, with the representative from the association for the prevention and handling of violence in the family (Spavo) saying that out of the 23 women who applied for legal aid in 2021, only eight were approved.
Regarding trafficking cases, no female victim of trafficking was granted legal aid in the period 2015-2019, Cyprus News Agency reported.
A representative of the Bar Association said that in some cases, the rejection of a request for legal aid may not be adequately justified, which could support an appeal against the decision, except that these applicants have neither the financial nor the time comfort to go through such a procedure.
Furthermore, the examination of applications is so time-consuming that it leads women to find alternatives.
During the discussion, it emerged that women’s appearance is still used against them in cases of sexual harassment and sexual abuse. This happens often, the one parent families association reported, explaining that during public cross-examination of the women as witnesses, their well-groomed physical appearance is used as a counter-argument.
After the meeting, the chairwoman of the Committee and Akel MP, Irini Charalambidou, said that cooperation with the justice ministry is required for legislative regulations around this issue, which are related to the budget.
“We will be in contact with the [finance] ministry and also with the chairman of the National Coordination Body for the Prevention and Combating of Violence against Women for better management,” she said, referring to amendments that the human rights committee may promote.
Providing legal aid in cases of victims of violence identified by the police is a “matter of social responsibility”, she added, and should be provided without financial considerations to create a culture of safety among victims and effectively stamp out gender and domestic violence.
“A woman victim of violence cannot be humiliated through procedures for applying for free legal aid,” she said, explaining that it is even more difficult for a woman who suffers violence and is not financially independent to break the cycle of violence.
But as more serious problem, Charalambidou said, is the delay in the adjudication of cases which acts as a deterrent “as over time there is a reluctance to give evidence in many cases,” she said.
The Akel MP also welcomed the Cyprus Bar Association’s Justice For All initiative announced last month, through which free legal advice will be provided voluntarily by members of the association.