Back in 2017, the government first introduced the Domestic Abuse Bill, aiming to increase protection for victims of domestic abuse. In 2018, a public consultation, entitled ‘Transforming the Response to Domestic Abuse’ was carried out, and a draft of the Domestic Abuse Bill, based on the paper, was published by the government in early 2019. Unfortunately, due to the decision of PM Boris Johnson to prorogue Parliament, the Bill was dropped. This caused outrage across political parties and domestic abuse support groups. However, more recently, following the quashing of the prorogation by the Supreme Court, the Bill is now back on the parliamentary agenda.
Why is the Domestic Abuse Bill so urgent?
It is an uncomfortable reality that domestic violence and abuse numbers are at a five-year high. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports that around 2m adults (16- 59 years) experienced domestic abuse between April 2017 and March 2018. In the same period, the police recorded just under 600,000 domestic abuse crimes and made ~225,000 arrests. 173 people were killed in domestic violence-related homicides in 2018, representing an increase of 32 from 2017.
In the words of Sandra Horley, the chief executive of the Refuge charity, the figures are “truly horrifying…to put it simply, without the necessary action to address violence against women and girls, these appalling statistics are unlikely to be reduced.”
What does the Domestic Abuse Bill seek to achieve?
According to the government’s information, the new Domestic Abuse Bill aims to achieve several objectives, including to:
- define domestic abuse in law
- establish a Domestic Abuse Commissioner
- create a new domestic abuse offence in Northern Ireland for controlling or coercive behaviour
- prohibit perpetrators of abuse from cross-examining victims in court
- ensure victims of domestic abuse are eligible for special measures (e.g. video links)
- require the use of polygraph testing as a condition a perpetrator’s release from custody
- put guidance supporting the ‘Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme’ (known as “Clare’s law”) on a statutory footing
- place a legal duty on local authorities to provide secure homes for victims and their children who are fleeing domestic violence. There will also be a requirement to provide a secure lifetime tenancy for social tenants affected by domestic abuse.
As such, more broadly, the Bill proposes a multi-pronged strategy to:
- clarify the law concerning acts of domestic violence and abuse
- provide new levels of legal oversight (in the form of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner)
- ensure the safety and protection of victims and their families, and;
- improve the performance of all agencies responding and handling domestic abuse across the country.
What is being done to resolve the underlying causes of domestic abuse in the UK?
While the proposed measures will focus on how the authorities and legal system handle domestic abuse cases, it’s also important to address the underlying causes.
One possible way this can be achieved is through a robust nationwide public health campaign focusing on domestic abuse. Such a campaign, with the tag-line ‘Be a Lover not a Fighter’ was carried out in Merseyside in 2015/16 to boost public awareness of domestic abuse and its prevalence and effects (including on children), attempt to ‘de-normalise’ family violence, get people talking about the matter, and gain public support to end suffering. The project was run in the manner of a marketing campaign, reaching 39% of the 2.4m Cheshire and Merseyside population. The results of the programme showed a heightened awareness of both physical and mental domestic abuse and an increased acknowledgement by the local population that the reduction of family violence is everyone’s responsibility (not just the police).
The campaign highlighted the importance of:
- getting local leadership behind reducing domestic abuse
- allowing local interests to ‘opt-in’ to improve engagement
- engaging stakeholders early
- using and referring to models of handling domestic abuse which is grounded in strong tried and tested theory
- accepting than innovation does not happen overnight
- encouraging strong collaboration between various interest groups
The reintroduction of the Domestic Abuse Bill in parliament and its subsequent passing in future months will represent a major landmark in the tackling of domestic abuse. But more resources will be needed to deal with the underlying causes of rising violence and abuse of this nature – in the form of public health and other awareness campaigns. By repeatedly reminding and reinforcing core values of patience, kindness, and respect across the population, allied to anger management education and the message that domestic violence and abuse is far from normal, there is a high possibility that future statistics will show a downward trend. Ultimately, each one of us plays a role in bringing the scourge of domestic abuse to an end.
If you are in any way in danger, phone 999 or the domestic violence helpline on 0808 2000 247.
Rosie Bracher is a specialist family law firm based in Barnstaple. We have the knowledge and expertise to advise you on any matter relating to domestic abuse. Please contact our office on 01271 314 904 and arrange to speak to one of our team in complete confidence.