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Will new domestic violence and abuse bill better protect victims and bring more prosecutions?

Described by Women’s Minister Victoria Atkins as a ‘game changer’ and by Prime Minster Theresa May as something which will ‘completely transform the way we tackle domestic abuse’, the new

Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill is certainly much needed.

With the consultation process to end on May 31, the Government will publish a draft of the bill which will make very interesting reading, and promise measures including;

  • Tougher sentences for domestic abusers
  • Proposed Domestic Abuse Protection Orders (DAPOs) which would allow police and courts to intervene earlier where abuse is suspected.
  • Electronic tagging of suspects before they have been found guilty of a crime.
  • The creation of an independent domestic abuse commissioner
  • A new definition of economic abuse (a person can be abused by their partner if they are denied access to jobs or money, or forced to take loans.)
  • Giving domestic abuse victims the same status in court as those who ae victims of modern slavery or sexual offences (this would include the special measures already afforded to rape and modern slavery victims, who are allowed to give evidence from behind a screen or via video link).

Given that the Government, police forces and the courts have often been criticised by charities such as Refuge for not taking crimes such as domestic abuse much more seriously, these measures all appear to indicate a significant change of approach, or ‘transformation’, as the Prime Minister has said.

However, in my experience of this area of work, and as a lawyer who has supported many victims of abuse throughout my career, I believe there still needs to be a greater focus on addressing the difficulties faced in bringing prosecutions against violent offences in cases involving partners and relatives.

Take for example the recent Scottish bill, passed earlier this year, which included a new crime of ‘psychological abuse of a partner or ex-partner’. According to Scottish law, psychological abuse is behaviour which:

  • Causes the victim to be dependent on or subordinate to the perpetrator
  • Isolates the victim from friends, family or support
  • Involves regulating, controlling or monitoring day to day activities
  • Deprives or restricts freedom of action, or;
  • Is frightening, humiliating, degrading or punishing.

Under the law, involving a child in psychological abuse of a partner or ex-partner is seen as an aggravation of the crime.

These definitions of what constitutes abuse in a relationship are much more specific, and can be the very behaviours, over a long period of time, which prevent a victim of domestic abuse from speaking out as the abuse worsens and becomes physical.

Figures revealed increasing number of domestic violence reports not attended by police

Figures released by The Independent last December showed the number of domestic violence incidents going unattended by police to be rising, with the worst performing forces missing a quarter of call-outs.

It revealed that in a year, 39,686 incidents went unattended, while it took police more than 24 hours to get to the scenes of a further 32,007 reported crimes.

The new Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill aims to ensure earlier intervention and prevention.

The prediction in Scotland is that the annual number of domestic abuse prosecutions will rise. It is to be hoped we see the same in England and Wales Submissions to the Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill can be made until May 31 at;

https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/joint-select/human-rights-committee/legislative-scrutiny/parliament-2017/draft-domestic-violence-and-abuse-bill-17-19/

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