After months of consultation, the government has produced its draft Domestic Abuse Bill which proposes nine changes to legislation and legal practice covering domestic abuse.
- a statutory definition of domestic abuse;
- prohibit perpetrators of domestic and other forms of abuse cross-examining their victims in person in the family courts, prevent victims from having to cross-examine their abusers, and give the court discretion to prevent cross-examination where it would diminish the quality of the witness’s evidence or cause the witness significant distress;
- provide for new domestic abuse protection notices and orders;
- a statutory presumption domestic abuse victims are eligible for special measures in the criminal courts;
- extend the extra-territorial jurisdiction of criminal courts in England and Wales to further violent and sexual offences;
- enable high-risk domestic abuse offenders to be subject to polygraph tests as a condition of their licence following their release from custody;
- establish an office of Domestic Abuse Commissioner;
- place the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (Clare’s Law) on a statutory footing; and
- ensure local authorities grant domestic abuse victims in social housing with a secure lifetime or assured tenancy a secure lifetime tenancy.
On broadening the law to include economic abuse, Home Office minister Victoria Atkins, who is also the government’s minister for women, said the addition recognises it as a terrible form of abuse and part of a pattern of oppression lasting many years.
“It can range from anything from controlling bank accounts or taking loans out in [the victim’s] name without her knowledge, or stealing her car keys in the morning so she can’t get to work on time and loses her job and therefore her financial independence,” the Evening Standard in London quoted her as saying. “In terms of the controlling aspect, for someone to tell someone else that they are not allowed to work – that’s exerting an extraordinary level of control over their lives. In this bill, we make it very clear that this sort of coercive controlling behaviour that we see so often in domestic abuse, sadly, is just as unlawful as acts of physical violence.”
Publication follows consultation with victims, support organisations and professionals working in the field. More 3,200 responses were received from across the UK.
The nine measures requiring legislation will be included in the draft Domestic Abuse Bill and will be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny.
The government is also providing £8 million of funding to support children affected by domestic abuse; establishing a new crisis support system for those with no recourse to public funds; improving support for victims in the family court; and providing additional funding for disabled, elderly, LGTB and male victims of domestic abuse.
The bill’s publication coincides with a Home Office report estimating that the crime of domestic abuse cost £66 billion in England and Wales in 2016/17. The majority (£47 billion) was a result of the physical and emotional harm of domestic abuse, with health service costs put at £2.3 billion, police (£1.3 billion) and victim services (£724 million).
Mark Groves CEO of The National Centre for Domestic Violence commented “This bill delivers a huge package of initiatives to the sector from more tools for support agencies to more protection to the victim. There is a lot to be absorbed and there will be much work to do to implement these plans, so long as the funding and resourcing, especially for the police, is in place it marks a major step change.”
Mr Groves has always considered that domestic abuse needs to become socially unacceptable and in this bill there is a clear direction to follow this route – “making domestic abuse socially unacceptable is the only long term way to effectively tackle this issue, as has happened with drinking and driving it has taken 2 generations for society to finally see results and it will be the same with domestic abuse.“ Mr Groves said.
He further said “With the right combination of victim support, legal force and social unacceptability will we stand a chance to tackle the route causes of domestic abuse and this bill is an excellent start”