Merseyside’s Police Commissioner, Jane Kennedy, has joined police and crime commissioners across the country calling on Health Secretary, 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 Merseyside's Police and Crime Commissioner Jane Kennedy.
Jane said: “Victims of domestic abuse should not be required to pay in order to get justice. They are often financially controlled by their abuser and this policy causes further pain and risk. The government should remove the need for a GP’s letter in order to get legal aid.
"We should believe vulnerable victims and support them, not cause further risk to them, which this policy does.”
"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."
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.”
Sixteen PCCs, including Greater Manchester's Police Commissioner Tony Lloyd, 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.
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.”