Police and Crime Commissioner for Cleveland, Barry Coppinger, 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 MP 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.”
MP Tom Watson first raised this issue following a visit to a Wythenshawe Safe Spots, a support centre for victims and survivors of domestic abuse.
“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 Barry Coppinger 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.
Mr Coppinger said: “Entering the legal system as a domestic violence victim is already an incredibly brave thing to do and the last thing they need is to face financial difficulty in order to access legal aid.
“I fully support Mr Watson’s campaign and I have contacted my partners in the Cleveland area who have advised that this is a common experience for many victims in our region.
“Victims suffer enough and GPs simply should not be allowed to charge them for access to the justice system.”
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.
Posted on Wednesday 8th February 2017