Call for Health Secretary to scrap the doctor’s legal aid fee for domestic violence victims7 February, 2017
Lancashire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw has joined fellow 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 changes in the law, domestic abuse victims now have to provide specific evidence to be able to apply for legal aid. One of the accepted forms of evidence is a letter from a GP – a letter that some GPs are charging fees ranging from £25 to £175 to provide.
The concerns raised by Deputy Labour Leader Tom Watson’s ‘scrap the fee’ campaign have been echoed by 16 PCCs, including Clive Grunshaw 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.
Clive Grunshaw said, “Those seeking legal aid in domestic abuse cases are doing so for a reason and any extra financial barriers could put lives at risk. Financial control is often a big part of abusive relationships and legal aid can help victims of abuse seek vital protections to escape violence, protect their children and ensure the family home is safe.
“Not all GP are charging at this level but enough are that we need the practice to stop. That is why I’ve joined the call to the Health Secretary to abolish fees in these cases. If the Government is making this a requirement for victims they shouldn’t then be forced to pay.
“Here in Lancashire I am continuing to work with the police and partners to ensure the best possible service for those affected by domestic abuse including expanding Lancashire Victim Services to deliver support. However, we need to ensure no-one is put off seeking the help they need because of costs like these.”
Deputy Labour Leader Tom Watson MP first raised this issue following a visit to a Wythenshawe Safe Spots, a support centre for victims and survivors of domestic abuse.
Speaking about the issue 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.
“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.”
Sarah Green, co-director of the End Violence Against Women campaign, described the intervention by PCCs as extremely welcome.
She said: “Without access to legal aid, some women are being denied access to justice and protection for themselves and their families. It is unreasonable to put a ‘certifying’ duty on doctors and many women would not in any case disclose domestic abuse to their GP.
“This matter mirrors the unreasonable arrangements being put in place for rape survivors trying to access tax credits for children conceived as a result of rape – again they need a letter from a doctor or other officialdom. These rules need wholesale revision.”
A copy of the letter to Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, can be viewed here.