Leicestershire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Lord Willy Bach has joined police and crime commissioners across the country calling on Health Minister Jeremy Hunt to scrap the fee charged to domestic abuse victims seeking legal aid.
Due to recent legislation changes, domestic abuse victims now have to apply for legal aid. However, to qualify for support they need to provide specific evidence to prove that they have been subjected to such abuse. One of the accepted forms of evidence is a letter from a GP – a letter that some GPs are charging fees to provide.
The concerns raised by Deputy Labour Leader Tom Watson’s “scrap the fee” campaign have been echoed by Greater Manchester Mayor and Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Lloyd who called on the support of his fellow PCCs to demand a fair process for abuse victims.
Tony said: “That victims of domestic abuse are even being asked to prove they are victims before they can access legal aid is insulting, insensitive and wholly unhelpful.
“It should not be a privilege for victims of domestic abuse to gain legal aid. There should be no further burden on victims to chase a letter to verify their claim. The government needs to scrap this fee by bringing the service under NHS funding or – better still – scrap the need for the letter entirely.”
Deputy Labour Leader Tom Watson first raised this issue following a visit to a Wythenshawe Safe Spots, a support centre for victims and survivors of domestic abuse.
Tom said: “I’m delighted that police and crime commissioners across the country have backed my scrap the fee campaign – I learned about the GP fee when I visited a centre for victims of domestic abuse in Wythenshawe. I couldn't believe it.
People suffering domestic abuse are already incredibly vulnerable. We should be taking action to help them, not demanding payment for a letter they need to access justice.
Nearly half of women take no action as a result of not being able to apply for legal aid. That's appalling. Help for victims of domestic violence should never come at a price.
I have requested an urgent meeting with Ministers to put an end to this practice. The government should scrap this unfair, immoral fee now. It has to stop.”
16 PCCs, including Lord Bach have added their name to the letter to Jeremy Hunt, and Justice Secretary Liz Truss is also being urged to scrap the need for the letter all together.
Lord Bach said: “This issue must be tackled by central government. Any fee is too much when you are possibly financially dependent upon the person who is abusing you, on a low income or on benefits.
“This bad state of affairs exists because of the Coalition Government’s legislation that cut legal aid in this type of case. In other words, at the time that LASPO (Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act) was going through Parliament the consequences were likely to be unfair and unjust.”
Not all GPs apply these charges, and the amounts being charged vary. But to ensure that victims receive a consistent, equitable, and fair service across the UK, the campaign is calling for the service to be provided under the NHS so the fees are abolished.
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Posted on Wednesday 15th February 2017