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Vera Baird backs calls for Jeremy Hunt to “scrap the fee” for domestic violence doctor’s note

6th February 2017

Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird QC 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 a group of 16 PCCs, including Dame Vera Baird QC, who 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.

Dame Vera, who is also Chair of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, has offered her full support to the campaign. She said: “This fee must be abolished – it’s as simple as that. I’m completely committed to ensuring victims of domestic abuse have the support they need and find it appalling they must pay to prove they have been a victim to be eligible for legal aid.

“It is often the case that victims flee with very few personal belongings and many have limited access to funds. Without legal aid some victims simply cannot afford court proceedings against their perpetrator. It’s vital that nothing stands in the way of justice for these victims.”

“In Northumbria, we have also been working with Council Leader to support this issue.  Council’s such as South Tyneside, under the leadership of Iain Malcolm are working towards developing a Memorandum of Understanding with practices to waive the fee which would in essence be a ‘pledge’.  This is in the early stages but will make a real difference”

Deputy Labour Leader Tom Watson 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.”

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, 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.”

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.