Domestic Abuse Bill, lockdown and the current legislation covering Domestic Abuse – analysis by FLiP associate Vanessa Asante.
What constitutes Domestic Abuse?
Domestic abuse occurs when someone close to you, often your spouse or partner, causes you physical, psychological, sexual, financial or emotional harm. The abuse can be actual or threatened and can happen once every so often or on a regular basis.
It is a misconception that, in order for you to be in an abusive relationship, there must be physical violence. In many cases, there is no physical violence. Instead, psychological and emotional abuse may play a huge part in the relationship.
Domestic abuse can take many forms. Other than physical violence and threats of violence, you may feel intimidated by things that are said to you by your partner or the manner in which you are treated. You may be prevented from spending time with friends or family. You may be cut off financially. You may be constantly berated by your partner at home or in front of others.
In December 2015, a new offence criminalising controlling and/or coercive behaviour was introduced. It was designed to cover the scenario where there is a pattern of behaviour – acts, assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse over the course of time – which is used to harm, punish or frighten the victim. It also covers the situation where someone exerts excessive control in a relationship, often isolating a person from sources of support. It was introduced to deal with the situation where the individual instances of such behaviour in isolation would not in themselves be sufficient to constitute abuse. If a perpetrator is found guilty, the offence carries a maximum 5 years’ imprisonment, a fine or both.
Domestic Abuse and Lockdown
As local authorities, police and support services have continued to see an increased demand from victims of domestic abuse, it is apparent that sadly, this is not a trend that is unique to the UK. There has also been a worldwide spike in domestic abuse which is thought to have increased by as much as 20%. The UN has described the growing increase in the occurrence of domestic violence as a ‘shadow pandemic.’
This is a topic which is high on the Government’s agenda, and on 6 July 2020, the Domestic Abuse Bill was passed in the House of Commons. It will now have a series of readings and will be debated in the House of Lords. The Government have released a fact sheet about the aims of the Bill which can be found here.
The Domestic Abuse Bill
The Bill seeks to address a number of wide-ranging areas to support victims of domestic abuse. For example, it will incorporate into law a definition of domestic abuse which is broader than just physical violence, and will include behaviour such as emotional and psychological abuse, financial abuse and controlling and coercive behaviour. It also recognises that there does not have to be an ongoing pattern of conduct and that a single incident can constitute abuse. It also acknowledges that children who have been exposed to domestic abuse can be recognised as victims too. The Bill also:
- Aims to provide support to victims at an earlier stage and will place a duty on local authorities to provide assistance to victims of domestic abuse and their children in refuges and other safe accommodation. Importantly, the Bill now provides a legal right to housing to anyone made homeless as the result of domestic abuse.
- Establishes the role of Domestic Abuse Commissioner, whose responsibility it will be to lead on improvements to victims’ rights, raise public awareness around the issue and monitor the response of local authorities, the justice system in tackling domestic abuse.
- Provides other necessary safeguards for victims within the justice system, for example prohibiting perpetrators of abuse from cross-examining their victims in person in the family courts and creating a statutory presumption that victims of domestic abuse are eligible for special measures in the criminal courts. For example the use of screens whilst giving evidence on court or being able to give their evidence by video link.
A number of organisations have identified shortcomings with the Bill, such as the issue of an under funding of refuge places. Despite this it is hoped that the Bill will bring about a further shift in the approach of various institutions to addressing issues surrounding domestic abuse and ensuring that essential support is provided to victims at the earliest opportunity.
If you are in an abusive relationship, what can you do?
If you think you are in an abusive relationship, our team of experienced family lawyers can explain the options available to you. This may involve helping you to apply to the civil court for an injunction order. An injunction order can provide a breathing space for you to recover and make decisions about the future. It can prohibit further abuse (a Non-Molestation Order) and exclude the perpetrator from the home (an Occupation Order).
Non-Molestation Orders (and, in exceptional cases, Occupation Orders) can be granted by the Court urgently on the day the application is issued. Such emergency orders will often be applied for ‘without notice’ to your partner. This means that your partner will not have advance warning that you are going to Court to address any immediate safety concerns.
How we can help you
Here at Family Law in Partnership, we have launched a free legal advice helpline for queries on domestic abuse legal issues and children & parenting legal issues. The helpline is open every Wednesday from 2pm to 5pm.
If you are in need of legal advice in respect of domestic abuse issues, please call us on 020 7420 5000 to pre-book your free 30 minute consultation. For more information about our helpline visit here. For more information, take a look at our dedicated website page Abuse in Relationships or contact director Helen Greenfield who focuses on this area of law on T: 020 7420 5000 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.