The Government’s legislative programme set out in the Queen’s Speech on 21st June 2017 contains two bills out of a total of 27 which are aimed at providing greater protection for victims of domestic violence.
The first is a draft domestic violence and abuse bill which will establish a domestic violence and abuse commissioner and set out a legal definition of domestic abuse. The background notes to the Queen’s Speech provide:
The purpose of the Bill is 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 benefits:
- To protect victims of domestic violence and abuse.
- To give the justice system greater guidance and clarity about the devastating impact of domestic violence and abuse on families.
The main elements:
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 2015/16 Crime Survey for England and Wales indicates 7.7% of women and 4.4% of men reported having experienced any type of domestic abuse in the last year. This is the lowest level since the survey began.
- Data from 2015/16 shows that 11% of all offences recorded by the police were flagged as domestic abuse related.
- The volume of prosecutions and convictions for domestic abuse are at the highest ever recorded. In 2015/16 prosecutions reached 100,930 and convictions 75,235.
- Around 1 in 5 children have been exposed to domestic abuse. Those who witnessed domestic abuse as a child were more likely to experience domestic abuse as an adult.
The second piece of legislation is the Courts Bill which deals with the way the courts operate and includes a specific provision to put an end to the direct cross examination of domestic violence victims by their alleged perpetrators in the family courts. It will also extend the use of virtual hearings, which will allow victims to participate in trials without having to meet their alleged assailant face-to-face. This is welcome change which will should provide some comfort to victims of domestic abuse in family court proceedings.
Whilst the legislative programme has come in for a lot of criticism in the wider political sphere, the focus on domestic violence in the Queen’s Speech demonstrates that this issue is being taken seriously by the Government which can only be good news.