Domestic abuse victims applying for legal aid to have their case heard in court must first prove that they are victims of such abuse. One of the accepted forms of evidence is a letter from a GP, a letter that some GPs charge £75 to provide.
Now police and crime commissioners and local politicians have joined forces with Deputy Labour Leader Tom Watson to “Scrap The Fee”.
Greater Manchester Mayor and Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Lloyd said:
“For individuals already pushed to breaking point financially, physically and mentally, this is a bridge too far. People taking that incredibly brave step to enter the legal system to end their abuse must be supported to the hilt, not discouraged by punitive and wholly unnecessary obstacles.
“Everyone deserves fair access to justice. I fully support Tom’s campaign and will be raising this issue with Greater Manchester’s Domestic Abuse Partnership Board and local health leaders to ensure this outrageous practice is abolished in our region.”
Tom Watson launched the Scrap The Fee campaign following a visit to local domestic abuse project, Wythenshawe Safe Spots, instigated by Manchester City Council councillor, Sarah Judge. Together with Cllr Suzanne Richards, Sarah has also put forward a motion to Manchester City Council to support the campaign and has received unanimous support.
Cllr Sarah Judge, Manchester City Council, said:
“We hear so often that domestic abuse can impact anybody. Those with money or those without it. Unfortunately access to legal support doesn’t reflect this. I am pleased Tom Watson MP has picked up this crucial issue. We need to ensure this unfair, unjust and immoral fee is scrapped. I’m delighted that Manchester City Council backed the motion unanimously, however this is just the start.”
Tom Watson MP said:
“I want to thank Tony Lloyd and Manchester City Council for backing 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. The government should scrap this unfair, immoral fee now. It has to stop.”
Legal aid is a lifeline for women fleeing domestic abuse. It helps them to protect themselves, their children and secure their financial situation. But because of government changes to legal aid rules, individuals now need to provide a prescribed piece of evidence to prove they have been subjected to abuse.
GPs are able to charge fees to provide this proof because the service sits outside the NHS contract with doctors’ surgeries. Campaigners are urging the Government to bring the service back under NHS control and calling on GPs to abolish the fee within their practices
Find out more about the campaign and add your support at http://www.tom-watson.com/scrap_the_fee
Find out more about the work of Wythenshawe Safe Spots at @WythSafespots on Twitter.