In June 2017 the Government announced that a new law on domestic abuse would form part of the legislative programme for this Parliament. On 8th March 2018, a consultation was announced which has put more more flesh on the bones of the proposed bill. A government consultation sets out a timescale for interested organisations or individuals to set out their views on any proposed new law based on a series of questions.
In the consultation it accepted that the domestic abuse disproportionately affects women and men are far more likely to be perpetrators, especially in the most serious cases. In 2016/17 95% of domestic homicides were women killed by men. The government’s approach to tackling domestic abuse remains within the context of the wider Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) strategy.
The consultation consists of four main themes; these are:
- Promote awareness – to put domestic abuse at the top of everyone’s agenda, and raise public and professionals’ awareness
- Protect and support – to enhance the safety of victims and the support they receive
- Pursue and deter – to provide an effective response to perpetrators from initial agency response through to conviction and managements of offenders, including rehabilitation
- Improve performance – to drive consistency and better performance in the response to domestic abuse across all local areas, agencies and sectors.
The main proposals as set out consultation are:
- There will be a new definition of domestic abuse. This will not just be limited to intimate partners but all familial relationships. The definition will be widened to include economic abuse, coercive control and will include patterns of behaviour as well as single incidents.
- More financial support will be provided to ensure there is no longer a ‘postcode lottery’ of refuge accommodation and domestic abuse support services.
- There will be a more uniform approach to safeguarding children through more multi agency working.
- A new ‘Domestic Abuse Protection Notice’ (DAPN) and ‘Domestic Abuse Protection Order’ (DAPO) will be introduced. A DAPN would be issued by the police and acts a warning. The proposed DAPO could be made not just in the criminal courts, but also in the family and civil courts. The application could be made by a victim, someone acting on their behalf and the police. A DAPO could include preventative measures such as a requirement not to go near the victim’s home, or drink alcohol; or could require that the perpetrator attends for example, alcohol or drug treatments programmes. Breach of a DAPO would be a criminal offence.
- There would be a disclosure scheme providing a set of recognised procedures for sharing information with a victim or potential victim.
- More protection would be provided for victims in court proceedings and domestic abuse will be treated as an aggravating factor when sentencing.
- Perpetrators will be managed to deal with repeat offending and measures will be put in place to help perpetrators to change their behaviour.
- A new national independent Domestic Abuse Commissioner will provide public leadership on domestic abuse issues and play a key role in overseeing and monitoring the provision of domestic abuse services.
The chief executives of domestic abuse support organisations Women’s Aid Kate Ghose and Suzanne Jacobs of SafeLives welcomed the consultation; though concerns were raised that the funding needs to be in place to ensure it works.
On the Women’s Aid website Ms Ghose stated:
“The Bill’s ambition will be undermined if there is not a long term sustainable funding plan for refuges in place. We are calling on the government to give survivors a cast-iron guarantee that they will not go ahead with planned changes to how refuges will be funded, which threaten these life saving services with closure.”
The SafeLives website gives the reaction of Ms Jacobs:
“We’re well into the 21st century but it’s still common for women to be fleeing their home with their children and a bin bag full of their belongings. The Government is opening up a national conversation about abuse – let’s really have that conversation, not settling for piecemeal solutions but determinedly pursuing change in our thinking and our actions”.
The consultation will close on 31st May 2018; it can be viewed here.