New laws which are to be introduced to better protect victims of domestic violence will only have their full impact if police and support agencies are properly trained to spot abuse at an earlier stage and offer appropriate support.
That is the view of specialist lawyer Andrew Petherbridge, who has welcomed the long awaited Domestic Abuse bill, announced by the Government this week, saying it has the potential to better protect thousands, and save lives.
Under newly proposed laws, domestic abuse victims will receive a host of new protective measures aimed at clamping down on controlling partners.
New Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders aim to further protect victims and place restrictions on the actions of offenders, preventing them going near their victims.
The new laws will also ban the distressing practice of domestic abuse victims being cross-examined by perpetrators in the family courts, a change which has been widely welcomed.
Mr Petherbridge feels the pledged additional training for police, social workers and probation staff, will be key in making the laws a success.
His law firm, Hudgell Solicitors, continues to represent the family of Jacqueline Oakes, who was murdered by her violent ex-partner Marcus Musgrove in 2014.
Musgrave had previously been charged with assault and harassment and refused bail for attempting to strangle Jacqueline, but the CPS withdrew the case against him, unaware he had a violent history.
He continued to assault her and was again arrested and remanded into custody on charges of battery, but his trial was discontinued after Jacqueline herself withdraw a statement she had given to the police.
After further abuse and an alleged rape, he was again released on bail and went on to murder Jacqueline brutally.
“An inquest recently found failings across a number of agencies and state bodies, including the police, which meant her death could have been prevented,” Mr Petherbridge said.
“These new laws are very positive have the potential to save thousands from abusive partners, and could save lives, but what happened to Jacqueline was a very clear example of laws not always being enough to protect victims of domestic abuse.
“Laws need to be supported by efficient policing and support and communication with other agencies. A focus on education and awareness, relevant training, clear procedures for police forces and agencies to follow and complete transparency in how those laws are followed is key.
“Jacqueline’s story was truly tragic, and one that could have been avoided entirely. The laws were in place to protect her but the police and other bodies were not following procedures and being through enough to properly protect her life.”
The new laws will also see the first ever statutory government definition of domestic abuse to specifically include economic abuse and controlling and manipulative non-physical abuse.
It is hoped this will enable everyone, including victims themselves, to better understand what constitutes abuse and will encourage more people to come forward.
Mr Petherbridge feels this is a hugely positive step, but again says improvements are needed to make a full impact.
“One of the major issues we see with domestic abuse cases is the reluctance of victims to come forward and speak out. At times, when the abuse is not physical, they do not see themselves as victims. Even in very abusive relationships it can be the case, as Jacqueline herself at one stage withdrew a statement against Musgrove.”
Also under the new bill, men and women could be given greater access to Clare’s Law, otherwise known as The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, which was introduced in 2014 to give anyone the right to ask the police if their partner has a history of violence, or pose a risk.
Since introduced, police forces have been able to provide information at their discretion, something Mr Petherbridge says become more consistent if it is to meet its full potential impact.
He said: “Figures from past years have shown a number of police forces have failed to provide details to many people making requests, some forces with a response rate as low as just seven per cent of requests. That is not good enough.
“These changes must result in more use of this power and consistent responses to the scheme across all police forces.
“These new laws cannot just become words. They must become the laws that make victims firstly recognise themselves as just that, feel able to come forward knowing they will be listened to and taken seriously, and most important of all, protected from further harm.”