With an estimated 2 million people in England and Wales suffering from some form of domestic abuse every year, it is positive news that legislation designed to protect those individuals has finally been given an elevated profile on the political agenda.
Draft legislation in the form of the Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill was formally announced in the Queen’s Speech on 21 June 2017. In addition, the Government has said it will introduce legislative powers to prosecute British perpetrators who commit an act of domestic violence whilst abroad, constituting a final step towards ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women, also known as the Istanbul Convention.
So what is the Bill seeking to achieve?
Crucially, and perhaps understandably, many victims choose not to come forward following an act of domestic abuse. It is hoped that the new legislation will not only give confidence to those who are in that position but also reassure victims that targeted legislation is in place to protect them and their children and punish abusers appropriately. At present, aside from criminal prosecution, civil remedies in the family court for those in abusive relationships include occupation orders and/or non-molestation orders. As a less draconian step, individuals can seek undertakings or ‘promises’ to the court from the perpetrator. But the reach of the draft legislation clearly demonstrates that more is required to protect victims than is currently offered.
Some key statistics
The briefing notes prepared by the Government in the Queen’s Speech note that:
- Data from 2015/16 shows that 11% of all offences recorded by the police were flagged as domestic abuse related
- In 2015/16 prosecutions reached 100,930 and convictions 75,235
- Around 1 in 5 children have been exposed to domestic abuse.
- The 2015/16 Crime Survey for England and Wales indicates 7.7% of women and 4.4% of men reported having experienced domestic abuse in the last year.
The briefing notes further set out the following:
The purpose of the Bill – To transform our approach to domestic violence and abuse to ensure that victims have the confidence to come forward and report their experiences, safe in the knowledge that the state and justice system will do everything it can to both support them and their children, and pursue their abuser.
The main elements of the Bill
- To establish a Domestic Violence and Abuse Commissioner, to stand up for victims and survivors, raise public awareness, monitor the response of statutory agencies and local authorities and hold the justice system to account in tackling domestic abuse.
- To define domestic abuse in law to underpin all other measures in the Bill.
- To create a consolidated new domestic abuse civil prevention and protection order regime.
- To ensure that if abusive behaviour involves a child, then the court can hand down a sentence that reflects the devastating life-long impact that abuse can have on the child.
The extension of an aggravated offence when abuse is committed against a child is one of the key features of the new legislation and recognises the need to protect children who are exposed to domestic abuse and who are themselves victims. Research has told us such experiences will continue to affect children long into adulthood so the sooner and more effectively it is dealt with, the better the long term outcome for society as a whole.
The Istanbul Convention
The Convention is for the large part already covered by domestic legislation and, in some instances, domestic law goes above and beyond what is provided in the Convention. However, additional legislation is required for extra-territorial jurisdiction so as to be able to prosecute offences committed by British citizens overseas. The Government hopes that the incorporation of extra-territorial jurisdiction into the draft Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill will send a clear message to perpetrators that ‘there is nowhere to hide.’
‘Tackling domestic violence head on’
There is certainly truth in what the Prime Minister Theresa May describes as ‘the hidden scandal that takes place every day in homes across Britain…’ Domestic violence and abuse is sadly rife in society, across every class, race, ethnic group and age. There is a wide spectrum of domestic abuse, which ranges from intimidating, threatening and controlling behaviour to actual physical violence.
This proposed draft legislation is once again bringing the matter of domestic abuse and violence to the fore and will hopefully encourage victims to seek the help they need and bring them the justice they deserve to allow them to move forward with their lives.
For more information on how Family Law in Partnership can help you, please visit our 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
The Queen’s Speech and associated background briefing on the State opening of Parliament on Wednesday 21 June 2017: