Domestic abuse victims seeking legal aid should not be charged fees for the provision of specific evidence to prove that they have been subjected to abuse, Nottinghamshire Police and Crime Commissioner Paddy Tipping said today.
A long-time, staunch supporter of justice for domestic abuse victims, he said: “I stand side by side with a number of my fellow PCCs in calling upon the government to put a stop to ‘fees for evidence.’
“Recent changes in legislation mean that domestic abuse victims can now apply for legal aid, but to qualify for this they need evidence. Among the accepted forms of evidence is a letter from their GP with some charging fees, we have heard, ranging from £75 to £175.
“Charges of this size could not only deter hard-up victims from seeking the justice they deserve but result in them staying in abusive relationships. This is unfair, unjust and clearly unacceptable.”
Mr Tipping and 14 other PCCs have joined forces with Greater Manchester Mayor and PCC Tony Lloyd in writing to Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt to make requests for evidence of abuse a free service provided by the NHS. Their call to abolish the fees follows on from the Greater Manchester Commissioner’s support of Deputy Labour Leader Tom Watson’s Scrap The Fee campaign.
Their letter stresses the vulnerability of domestic abuse victims and refers to reports of these crimes increasing across the country. Commenting on this, Mr Tipping said today: “I have been urging victims to report abuse for years, and I continue to do all I can to ensure that support is available to them. What we don’t want is for victims who have plucked up the courage to seek help to find themselves back where they were because of the additional pressures of fees for evidence.”
The Commissioners say in their letter: “Locally, we’re doing all we can as Police and Crime Commissioners to effect change, but to ensure no one falls between the gaps, this issue must be tackled by central government.”
They go on: “Two women are killed every week in England and Wales by their partner or former partner. Escaping abusive relationships is a struggle; it takes a great deal of strength and courage, and the government must do all it can to avoid placing unnecessary barriers in front of people who are clearly desperate to change their circumstances.
"It should not be a privilege for victims of domestic abuse to gain legal aid. Nobody should have to stay in an abusive relationship due to financial burdens. £75 is a huge amount of money, especially if you’re financially dependent of your partner, on a low income or on benefits.”
They conclude by telling the Health Secretary that he has “the power to stop this exploitation of vulnerable victims of domestic abuse and we trust you will do all you can to rectify this issue.”
Media Enquiries: Sallie Blair - 01283 821012 / 07702 541401
Posted on Wednesday 8th February 2017