Doctors may be asked to provide information regarding a patient's application for civil legal aid following recent changes to the Legal Aid system.
These changes mean that legal aid is now only available for family matters where an individual can prove they are a victim of domestic violence. One way in which to do this is through the provision of medical evidence.
The work doctors are now instructed to undertake falls outside of their NHS contract which means a fee can be charged. Doctors are advised to explain to the claimant the reasons for the fee, and agree the amount in advance of doing the work.
The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) guidance for applicants also states that a fee may be charged.
How to complete the legal aid template letter
Your patient will ask you to complete a request for evidence template letter.
You will be asked to confirm you are satisfied that the injuries or condition (which could include any psychological condition), that the applicant presented with in the last 24 months, are consistent with domestic violence.
|Take into account the following GMC Good Medical Practice guidance:
65. You must do your best to make sure that any documents you write or sign are not false or misleading. This means that you must take reasonable steps to verify the information in the documents, and that you must not deliberately leave out relevant information.
66. If you have agreed to prepare a report, complete or sign a document or provide evidence, you must do so without unreasonable delay.
67. If you are asked to give evidence or act as a witness in litigation or formal inquiries, you must be honest in all your spoken and written statements. You must make clear the limits of your knowledge or competence.
Where a patient has been examined by a doctor in the last 24 months, and there is clear information in the notes that the patient at the time informed the doctor they were suffering domestic violence, (whether physical or psychological), doctors would be able to sign the template letter as it is.
Where a patient has been examined in the last 24 months, but there is no clear information in the notes that the patient at the time informed the doctor they were suffering domestic violence, but are doing so now, doctors are advised to state the facts as they understand them and avoid interpretation.
In this situation we would advise members to state that the patient did not disclose at the time of the origin of the injuries but is doing so now.
Read further guidance and template letters for applicants
Background to the legal aid template letter
The inclusion of medical evidence into the Regulations evidence (regulation 33 of the Civil Legal Aid (Procedure) Regulations 2012) was undertaken by government at very short notice and without appropriate consultation with stakeholders.
If consulted, the BMA would have opposed the inclusion of medical evidence, as we feel such requests can compromise the doctor's relationship with their patient.
The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) have made it clear that the evidence is only required for a decision on whether or not to grant legal aid. It is not designed to prove domestic violence in the context of a criminal or civil court case.
The MOJ and the Legal Aid Agency also recognise that the great majority of physical injuries and many non-physical conditions could be caused by domestic violence.
Remember if you are a BMA member, and would like further clarification, you can contact one of our advisers on 0300 123 1233 or at http://bma.org/support