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In early October, Labour MP Rosie Duffield gave a harrowing speech in Parliament which left some of her colleagues in tears.

Speaking during a debate on the Domestic Abuse Bill, Ms Duffield told of the terrifying verbal abuse, humiliation, and financial control she suffered at the hands of an ex-partner.  Her plight was unbeknown to her friends, family, and colleagues.

Speaker, John Bercow, said the speech was “simultaneously horrifying and as moving a contribution” as he had heard in his 22 years in the Commons.

Ms Duffield’s speech highlighted once again how reform of the UK’s domestic abuse law is desperately needed.  

When Parliament was prorogued in September 2019, there was concern that Domestic Abuse Bill would be dropped by Parliament, meaning all progress made this year would have been lost.  Fortunately, the prorogation of Parliament was deemed unlawful, and the Bill and its progress is firmly back on the table.

What is the aim of the Domestic Abuse Bill?

According to a government consultation and response paper, the four main objectives of the Domestic Violence Bill are to:

  • promote awareness – to put domestic abuse at the top of everyone’s agenda, and raise public and professional awareness
  • protect and support – to enhance the safety of victims and the support that they receive
  • transform the justice process – to prioritise victim safety in the criminal and family courts, and review the perpetrator journey from identification to rehabilitation
  • improve performance – to drive consistency and better performance in the response to domestic abuse across all local areas, agencies, and sectors

To achieve this, the Bill will, according to the factsheet:

  • define domestic abuse in law to underpin other measures in the Bill
  • establish a Domestic Abuse Commissioner, to stand up for victims and survivors, raise public awareness, monitor the response of local authorities, the justice system, and other statutory agencies, and hold them to account in tackling domestic abuse
  • provide for a new Domestic Abuse Protection Notice and Domestic Abuse Protection Order
  • create a new domestic abuse offence in Northern Ireland to criminalise controlling or coercive behaviour
  • prohibit perpetrators of abuse from cross-examining their victims in person in the family courts
  • create a statutory presumption that victims of domestic abuse are eligible for special measures in the criminal courts (for example, to enable them to give evidence via a video link)
  • enable domestic abuse offenders to be subject to polygraph testing as a condition of their licence following their release from custody
  • place the guidance supporting the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (“Clare’s law”) on a statutory footing
  • 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 secure lifetime tenancy
  • extend the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the criminal courts in England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland to further violent and sexual offences

Although the response to the Bill has been positive, some campaigners are concerned that the draft does not recognise the “gendered nature” of domestic abuse.  Latest figures show that out of an estimated two million victims of domestic abuse in the last year, some 1.3 million were women. And horrifyingly, every week in the UK, two women are murdered by a partner or ex-partner, with 173 people killed in 2018, up from 141 in 2017.

Groups such as the End Violence Against Women Coalition have also lambasted the government for not addressing the raft of budget cuts to support services.  For example, local authority spending on refuges has been cut from £31.2m in 2010 to £23.9m in 2017, and 60% of those fleeing an abuser are unable to find a bed in a safe-house due to shortages.  Furthermore, support for black and ethnic minorities (BAME) have seen huge cuts, as money is moved to more generic services.

A work in progress

The Domestic Abuse Bill 2019 is not perfect.  Legislation seldom is. However, we need what is contained in the Bill laid down in law, so government departments, local authorities, support services, and lawyers can start to implement its positive changes and address identified shortcomings.

Sometimes, done is better than perfect.

Support services

National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) – 0800 970 20 70

Refuge – 0808 2000 247 (24 hours)

Women’s Aid 0808 200 0247 (24 hours)

ManKind – 01823 334 244

Galop LGBT Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0800 999 5428

If you require advice on any of the issues mentioned in this article, please call us on 020 3372 5125 to make an appointment.

Please call us on 020 3372 5125 or get an online consultation

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