‘Landmark’ overhaul for domestic abuse laws

Jan 21, 2019 by

Domestic abuse victims will receive a wide range of new measures to protect them in what ministers say will be landmark legislation.

New laws will for the first time create a legal definition of domestic abuse, to include economic abuse and control.

The long-awaited legislation will also ban abusers from cross-examining victims in family courts.

Campaigners say the measures are a “once in a generation” opportunity to combat the impact of abuse.

Government experts estimate domestic abuse cost society £66bn in 2016/17 and it’s hoped the changes will improve the response.

The draft bill going before MPs will also:

    • Create new powers to force perpetrators into behaviour-changing rehabilitation programmes

 

    • Make victims automatically eligible for special protections when they are giving evidence in criminal trials

 

  • Set up a national “domestic abuse commissioner” tasked with improving the response and support for victims across public services

Domestic abuse in figures

Year ending March 2018

Two million

People aged 16-59 told the Crime Survey for England and Wales they had been a victim of domestic abuse

    • 1.3m Female victims; 695,000 male

 

    • 38 Arrests for every 100 recorded crimes

 

    • 89,091 Cases resulted in prosecution

 

  • 12% Proportion of prosecutions that fail after a victim changes their mind about giving evidence against their abuser

The definition of domestic abuse will specifically recognise that it goes beyond crimes of violence and includes victims who are psychologically coerced and manipulated, as well as those who have no control of their finances.

The legislation will also clarify the workings of “Clare’s Law” – a measure introduced four years ago to permit police to tell a member of the public of concerns over a partner’s previous violence.

 

 

‘He was still trying to control’

Justice Secretary David Gauke said abusers will no longer be able to cross-examine their victims in family courts, which he said can cause “immense distress and amount to a continuation of abuse”.

One victim of domestic abuse, Claire Throssell, from Sheffield, was cross-examined by her husband – after they had separated – during two separate court hearings over access to their two children. Her husband went on to kill her two sons in a house fire.

Talking about coming face-to-face with her ex-partner in court, she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “All the evidence was there but he was still trying to control, so you feel like you’re still that piece of dirt underneath his shoe.

“How dare I take him to court, how dare I keep the children away from him.

“It was a good job I had a solicitor there because when you’ve been told for long enough that you can’t do something whenever you see the person that’s installed that in you – and it is installed for years and years and years – you instantly curl up again inside and you instantly feel again worthless.”

Victoria Atkins, Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability, said: “I have heard absolutely heartbreaking accounts of victims whose lives have been ripped apart because of the physical, emotional or economic abuse they have suffered by someone close to them.

“The draft domestic abuse bill recognises the complex nature of these horrific crimes and puts the needs of victims and their families at the forefront.”

But shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said survivors of domestic violence have waited too long for the plans.

“If the Tories are serious about combating domestic violence, then there should be long-term funding commitments to ensure sufficient resources are available for abuse survivors,” she said.

Theresa May promised to overhaul domestic abuse laws almost two years ago – and the bill was a key pledge in the 2017 Queen’s Speech.

The public consultation closed eight months ago – and only now are we seeing the final package.

So given government is so pre-occupied with Brexit, it’s not clear when there will be Parliamentary time to turn the measures into law.

Campaigners say the plans must be a national priority – not least because the government’s staggering estimate of the costs support what they have said for years.

The £66bn figure is an estimate of the full impact of perpetrators on society – not just the cost of clearing up a specific crime. One housing association in Sunderland, for example, spent £8m on repairs suspect to be linked to domestic violence.

There are many other hidden impacts, including the damaged life chances for children scarred by what they experience.

Sandra Horley, chief executive of the charity Refuge, welcomed the draft bill – saying it was a “once in a generation” opportunity.

And Suzanne Jacob, head of SafeLives, said: “For too long, we’ve expected victims and children to uproot their lives while the perpetrators remain invisible and unchallenged by the system.

“The new change in approach reflects what hundreds of survivors told SafeLives they wanted – we’re pleased the Government is listening.”

Source: ‘Landmark’ overhaul for domestic abuse laws – BBC News

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