New centre aims to improve access to justice for women in Scotland



Paul Wheelhouse

The Scottish Women’s Rights Centre (SWRC) is being launched today to ensure that women in Scotland who have or are experiencing gender based violence are able to access timely and appropriate legal advice and information.

Women will be able to call the new centre’s helpline for legal information and advice on any aspect of gender based violence.

The centre is a partnership project between Rape Crisis Scotland, the University of Strathclyde and the Legal Services Agency, with the helpline staffed by volunteers from the University of Strathclyde Law Clinic.

The SWRC also plans to develop a network of pro bono solicitors to offer drop in services in rape crisis centres across Scotland.

Rape Crisis Scotland spokeswoman Sandy Brindley said: “Women in Scotland who have experienced rape, domestic abuse or any other form of violence against women need access to free, specialist legal advice and support.

“This could be to help make them aware of their rights to protective orders in cases of domestic abuse and/or stalking, advice on housing & welfare issues, or responding to queries about their role as a witness following the report of a rape or sexual assault.

“We are delighted to be involved in the development of this exciting new service, which we believe will make a significant difference to the lives of women in Scotland.”

The centre is being launched by legal affairs secretary Paul Wheelhouse.

He said: “Tackling the scourge of domestic abuse and sexual violence is a huge priority for the Scottish Government.

“The helpline being introduced today, backed by £215,000 of Scottish Government funding and administered by the Scottish Legal Aid Board, will provide vital access to advice and high quality legal assistance for those affected by these horrendous crimes.

“Today’s launch comes on the back of our recent announcement that £20 million will be made available over the next three years to support domestic abuse survivors and improve their access to justice.

“We are also protecting survivors by strengthening laws for victims and vulnerable witnesses, and we are currently consulting on a specific offence to tackle domestic abuse and measures to tackle sexual offences.

“Victims organisations, including Rape Crisis Scotland, play an invaluable role in supporting victims in the aftermath of these horrendous crimes, and I am so grateful to them for their hard work, along with the University of Strathclyde and the Legal Services Agency, in setting up this helpline to further strengthen the services for survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence.”

Funding from the Scottish Legal Aid Board will cover the costs of  a full time solicitor for the centre, who will be based within the Legal Services Agency and will provide free legal advice and representation.

The centre also receives funding from Foundation Scotland to cover the costs of a part time coordinator.

Colin Lancaster, deputy chief executive and director of policy and development at SLAB, said: “We are delighted the Scottish government is funding this project providing legal advice and representation to women affected by a wide range of issues related to gender based violence.

“This, along with the projects we manage delivering money and debt advice to women affected by domestic abuse under the Making Advice Work programme, will contribute to our key aim of improving access to justice.”

Kathleen Laverty from the University of Strathclyde Law Clinic added: “The Law Clinic is delighted to be part of the efforts to plug this gap in legal provision. This is a much needed service and one which we hope to develop and grow over time.”

Kirsty Thomson  head of Women’s Project, Legal Services Agency said: “The Legal Services Agency already provides legal advice to refugee and migrant women affected by violence in Scotland.

“There has however been no specific legal service dedicated to women affected by violence within Scotland.

“This new centre redresses that gap, increases protection for women and places Scotland at the forefront of legal service provision in the area of women’s rights.”