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What the new Domestic Abuse Bill means for victims

Domestic abuse has risen dramatically in London in the past seven years. According to the Office for National Statistics, it’s estimated that two million people aged 16-59 had been a victim of domestic abuse in the UK last year.[1] Among those, 1.3 million were female victims and 695,000 were male. The figures show that there has been a 63% increase in domestic abuse offences between 2011 and 2018.[2] But, did you know that only 38 arrests for every 100 crimes are recorded?

What is domestic abuse?

Domestic abuse can affect anyone regardless of ethnicity, age, gender, sexuality or social background. It is the manipulation of one person over another, whether by physical, emotional, psychological, sexual or financial means.

The Metropolitan Police defines domestic abuse as “any incident or pattern of controlling, coercing or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality”.[3]

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the law enforcement made 225,714 arrests for domestic abuse-related offences in 2018 and approximately 90,000 cases resulted in prosecution.[4] However, 12% proportion of prosecutions failed after a victim changed their mind about giving evidence against their abuser.

What is the Domestic Abuse Bill?

The Domestic Abuse Bill introduces the first statutory definition of domestic abuse that is not limited to physical violence, extending the definition to include emotional, psychological and economic abuse. It is aimed at supporting victims and their families and pursuing offenders, to stop the cycle of violence.

The government has called the Domestic Abuse Bill a “landmark” step aimed at tackling a crime that ruins millions of lives and costs billions of pounds.[5] It’s estimated that domestic abuse costs £5.5 billion each week in England, mostly due to its physical and emotional impact on victims as well as costs to law enforcement, health and support services.[6]

What will it change?

The new Bill will recognise economic abuse, including preventing a partner from bank account access or employment, along with controlling behaviour. Abusers will not be allowed by cross-examine their victims in court, which will help lessen the impact on victims having to re-live the trauma of their abuse. Those convicted of domestic abuse crimes may have to take compulsory lie-detector tests when released from prison.

The Bill will also clarify the workings of ‘Clare’s Law’, formally known as the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme – a guideline introduced in 2014 to give police forces permission to tell a member of the public if there are concerns over about previous violence committed by their partner.

What’s being said about the Domestic Abuse Bill?

Although the new proposed Bill is welcomed, a few women’s rights groups argue that it will not be enough. They are calling for the government to deliver the resources needed as well as legislation to introduce greater protections in the family courts for survivors, in particular special measures to safeguard them in the courtroom and to ensure that children’s safety is prioritised.[7]

Other groups have stated that they are thrilled that the government has introduced a ban on abuser cross-examining victims in the family courts, but it will not challenge the ‘contact at all costs’ approach by judges, which is putting children in danger.[8]

On the other hand, anti-abuse charities have backed the government as they believe that through the landmark Domestic Abuse Bill, the government will be able to transform the response to the devastating crime and go further to support victims and pursue perpetrators. The Bill, which unveils the most comprehensive package ever to tackle domestic abuse, will create a Domestic Abuse Commissioner and introduce new Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders to further protect victims and place restrictions on the actions of offenders.[9]

So, what’s next?

The draft Bill is currently being debated by MPs in the House of Commons and the House of Lords, as well as the Scottish Government and Northern Ireland Department of Justice about whether they wish to extend any of the Bill’s provisions to Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively. It’s also revealed that the government is seeking to establish a Joint Committee of both Houses to undertake pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft bill. If there are no objections, it will officially become law.

If you or a friend need help or information, the National Domestic Violence 24-hour Freephone Helpline runs in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge and is a national service for women experiencing domestic violence, their family, friends, colleagues and others calling on their behalf.

If you have been the victim of domestic abuse and need legal advice, you can contact our approachable family law on 0121 514 5279

 

[1] Dominic Casciani, ‘Domestic abuse: Non-physical and economic abuse included in law’, BBC News (online, 21 January 2019) https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-46939735

[2] Sarah Marsh, ‘Domestic abuse offences in London rise 63% in seven years’, The Guardian (online, 27 February 2019) https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/feb/27/domestic-violence-london-rise

[3] Metropolitan Police, ‘What is domestic abuse?’
https://www.met.police.uk/advice/advice-and-information/daa/domestic-abuse/what-is-domestic-abuse/

[4] Office for National Statistics, ‘Domestic abuse in England and Wales: year ending March 2018’, https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/bulletins/domesticabuseinenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2018

[5] UK Government, ‘Government publishes landmark domestic abuse bill’, (21 January 2019) https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-publishes-landmark-domestic-abuse-bill

[6] Trust for London, ‘Domestic violence costs £5.5bn a year in England’, https://www.trustforlondon.org.uk/news/domestic-violence-costs-55bn-year-england/

[7] The Guardian, ‘Major gaps and missteps in domestic abuse bill’ (online, 27 January 2019) https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jan/27/major-gaps-and-missteps-in-domestic-abuse-bill

[8] The Guardian, ‘Major gaps and missteps in domestic abuse bill’ (online, 27 January 2019) https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jan/27/major-gaps-and-missteps-in-domestic-abuse-bill

[9] Adam Forrest, ‘Government to publish Domestic Abuse Bill two years after pledging new law’, The Independent (online, 20 January 2019) https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/domestic-abuse-bill-violence-bill-theresa-may-victims-charities-a8736516.html

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