Around 2.4 million victims a year aged 16 to 74, two-thirds being women, are affected by domestic abuse or domestic violence. Around one in ten offences recorded by the police are domestic abuse related. Women’s Aid and other organisations have long campaigned for government to bring in new laws and tighten existing regulations relating to domestic abuse and ensure that better support is available for victims.
In drafting the Domestic Abuse Bill 2019/2020, the government said that it wants to:
- raise awareness and understanding of the devastating impact of domestic abuse on victims and their families
- further improve the effectiveness of the justice system in providing protection for victims of domestic abuse and bringing perpetrators to justice
- strengthen the support for victims of abuse by statutory agencies
What does the bill propose?
The bill will:
- create a statutory definition of domestic abuse – for the first time. It will be split into two parts:
- The first will deal with the relationship between abuser and abused. Both must be aged 16 or over (abusive behaviour toward someone under the age of 16 will be dealt with as child abuse). Both must be ‘personally connected’ – for example, intimate partners, ex-partners, family members or individuals who share parental responsibility for a child. Abuser and abused do not have to live in the same household.
- The second defines what constitutes domestic abuse, including physical, emotional coercive or controlling and economic abuse.
- create a new civil Domestic Abuse Protection Notice (DAPN) which will provide immediate protection following a domestic abuse incident, and a new civil Domestic Abuse Protection Order (DAPO), which will provide flexible, longer-term protection for victims.
- require local authorities in England to provide refuges and other safe places to support victims and their children
- prohibit cross-examination of victims by their abusers in family courts in England and Wales
- create a statutory presumption that special measures are given to victims in criminal courts – such as video link evidence
- ensure that offenders can be subject to polygraph testing as a condition of their licence following release from custody
- make the guidance given as part of Clare’s Law, statutory
- ensure that where a local authority, for reasons connected with domestic abuse, grants a new secure tenancy to a social tenant who had or has a secure lifetime or assured tenancy (other than an assured shorthold tenancy), this must be a lifetime tenancy
- extend the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the criminal courts in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to further violent and sexual offences
- establish a domestic abuse commissioner, who will ensure that all of the above is adhered to and hold to account any local authority, justice system or other statutory agency that does not
Economic abuse is new – what does it mean?
This is where the abuser behaves in such a way as to make the abused dependent upon them, thus making it more difficult to escape safely. It can include:
- having sole control of the family income
- preventing the victim from claiming welfare benefits
- preventing the victim from accessing education, training or employment
- preventing the victim from accessing food
- preventing the victim from having access to a mobile phone/transport/utilities
- damaging the victim’s property
What else is the government proposing?
When the bill has passed through the House of Commons and House of Lords it will receive royal assent, which means that it will become law. There is no set time for this, but the next stage, which is when the Public Bill Committee will scrutinise the bill, will take place on 25th June. The government also proposes other non-statutory measures that will run alongside the bill to help tackle domestic abuse, including:
- providing funding for domestic abuse training for responding agencies and professionals
- developing national guidance for police on repeat and serial abusers
- introducing regulations and guidance on relationship education, relationship and sex education and health education
- improving awareness and understanding of the offence of coercive control
- continuing to develop how domestic abuse data is collected, reported and tracked
We will keep you updated as the bill passes through Parliament, but in the meantime, if you need any assistance relating to domestic abuse, please contact our family law experts now. We are working safely and remotely and can deal with your issues by telephone, email or video call. You can also get help recognising the signs of domestic abuse and information on other places you can get help from on our website.
Author: Nicola Cancellara, family law solicitor.