MPs and campaigners are calling on the government to extend the Domestic Abuse Bill to cover Northern Ireland and migrant women.
The draft legislation, which proposes a statutory definition of domestic abuse, appointment of a Domestic Abuse Commissioner and placing the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (Clare’s Law) on a statutory footing among other measures, only covers England and Wales.
Labour MP Stella Creasy, who is taking the lead in urging the redrafting, was quoted by The Independent newspaper as saying: “This short-sighted decision [to exclude Northern Ireland and migrant women] must be reversed so that parliament can consider legislation that protects the rights of every woman everywhere in the UK and complies with the Istanbul Convention on human rights.”
Kate Allen, Amnesty UK director, said: “In its current form, the bill barely tinkers at the edges of what is necessary to ensure migrant women are treated fairly.”
Among other reactions to the bill, Simon Blackburn of the Local Government Association said: “With local government facing a £3.1bn funding gap in 2019/20, any legislative changes in this bill must be matched with adequate resources and funding …
“The ability of councils to fund services for victims is constrained by pressures on their budgets, with local authorities increasingly being forced to prioritise spending for those at immediate risk of harm, rather than on vital earlier support services and prevention schemes which help stop domestic abuse occurring in the first place.”
Sandra Horley, chief executive of victim support charity Refuge, said: “If [the bill’s] aim of ‘transforming the response to domestic abuse’ is to be achieved, more investment will be required.”
The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) welcomed the proposed ban on an alleged abuser cross-examining a partner in family courts. “When that happens, the court is allowing the perpetrator to use its processes as a tool to tighten control over the victim, showing her that even the court thinks how he behaves to her is acceptable and she will not win her freedom,” said APCC victims lead, Dame Vera Baird.
Chairman of the lawyers’ Bar Council, Richard Atkins, said: “It is absolute common sense that victims of abuse should not be interrogated by those who have abused them.” He described the proposal as correcting what has been a gap in the law for too long.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) criticised the bill for not including under-16s in its statutory definition. “By failing to officially recognise children as victims in law, the government is missing a crucial chance to give young people an extra layer of protection,” said the charity’s head of policy Almudena Lara.
According to the bill’s text, those under 16 were left out of the statutory legislation to underline the legal distinction from child abuse, which is dealt with in separate legislation. “Children exposed to domestic abuse are victims of child abuse,” the bill states.
Hestia, which works with adults and children in crisis in London, echoed the NSPCC’s argument, saying it would like to see greater provision in the resulting legislation to support children living in a home where domestic abuse takes place.
Suzanne Jacob, chief executive of domestic abuse charity SafeLives, said: “This bill is an ambitious first step, made possible by survivors of domestic abuse speaking out about these issues … We owe it to them now to take this bill even further and end domestic abuse for everyone, for good.”