In this article, Family Law in Partnership director Helen Greenfield comments on the publication of the new draft domestic violence bill.
“After an 18 month delay in the wake of 2017’s snap General Election, this bill includes new measures that are aimed at sparing victims the continued horror of having to face their alleged abusers by introducing a ban on abusers cross-examining victims in the family courts. It is suggested that courts either invite the party to instruct a “qualified legal representative” to do so on their behalf or the court can appoint one. Also, for the first time, the bill is to introduce the first statutory definition of domestic abuse, specifically to include economic abuse and coercive control.
The new legislation also creates a Domestic Abuse Commissioner and introduces new Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders to further protect victims and place restrictions on the actions of offenders. It also pledges £8m of Home Office funding to support children affected by domestic abuse.
Sarah Green, co-director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said: “The ambition and determination in the government’s announcement of the new bill is very welcome, given the devastation this abuse causes.” However, although accepting that this is a step forward, Womens Aid have concerns about the lack of special measures proposed in the family courts for victims of domestic abuse. Measures such as introducing the need for separate waiting rooms, different entry and exit times, screens to divide the courtroom, and facilities to give evidence via video focus are routinely only available in the criminal courts.
Campaigners have also said that the bill does not go far enough to protect victims or tackle the problem. Recent figures show 60% of victims in need of a refuge to escape their abuser are unable to be housed, most commonly due to lack of space. Local authority spending on refuges has been cut from £31.2m in 2010 to £23.9m in 2017. The bill comes as the Home Office released a report which found the social and economic costs of domestic abuse was £66bn in 2016/17. This is more than the amount caused by alcohol and drug misuse, cigarettes and obesity combined.
It is clear that the new bill will go some way to “bolster protection for victims”, as the Home Secretary outlined. However, it is not clear when there will be any Parliamentary time to turn the measures into law and discussions will inevitably continue as to whether the measures outlined go far enough”
Helen Greenfield is a director at Family Law in Partnership. She has been specialising in family law for over 10 years and advises on all matters relating to family breakdown, divorce and cohabitation.
She has a particular interest in helping those who have been affected by domestic abuse. This can include anything from isolating a person from their friends and family, monitoring their time, taking control over aspects of their everyday life such as where they can go, who they can see, what to wear, their finances or when they can sleep to threats to hurt to kill or even physical assault. Helen recognises that the legal implications of this are accompanied by a plethora of emotional and other issues and aims to ensure that clients are able to work through them with the right advice and support.
If you require advice or assistance on any family law issue, including domestic violence, please contact Helen at E: firstname.lastname@example.org or T: 020 7420 5000.