Domestic Abuse Bill

Government sets out enhanced Domestic Abuse Bill

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Walker Family Law
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Government sets out enhanced Domestic Abuse Bill

The Government has introduced to Parliament an enhanced version of its Domestic Abuse Bill, which aims to strengthen protection for victims of abuse. The Bill had been introduced in the last Parliament, but failed to complete its passage through Parliament before the General Election.

The main provisions of the Bill are as follows.


New definition of abuseDomestic Abuse Bill

The Domestic Abuse Bill will include the first statutory government definition of domestic abuse. The definition includes not just physical abuse and threatening behaviour, but also controlling or coercive behaviour, economic abuse, and psychological, emotional or other abuse.

“Economic abuse” means any behaviour that has a substantial adverse effect on the victim’s ability to acquire, use or maintain money or other property, or obtain goods or services.


Domestic Abuse Commissioner

The Domestic Abuse Bill will establish a ‘Domestic Abuse Commissioner’, “to drive the response to domestic abuse issues”.

Specifically, the Commissioner must encourage good practice in: the prevention of domestic abuse; the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of offences involving domestic abuse; the identification of people who carry out domestic abuse, victims of domestic abuse and children affected by domestic abuse; and the provision of protection and support to people affected by domestic abuse.

In fact, the Government has already appointed Nicole Jacobs, who has worked for domestic abuse charities for two decades, to be the designate Domestic Abuse Commissioner, and she has already begun her work.


Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and OrdersAbuse Protection Notices

The Domestic Abuse Bill will introduce new Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders.

A Notice, which may be given by a senior police officer, prohibits the person to whom it is given from being abusive towards a person aged 16 or over to whom they are personally connected. A person breaching the Notice may be arrested and taken before a magistrates’ court.

An order prevents a person from being abusive towards a person aged 16 or over to whom they are personally connected, by prohibiting them from doing things described in the order, or requiring them to do things described in the order. The order may be made on application to a court, or by the court of its own motion. The court may impose any requirement it considers necessary to protect the victim, including requiring the abuser to submit to electronic tagging. Breach of an order is a criminal offence.

The Government has said of these: “Domestic Abuse Protection Orders and Protection Notices are powerful tools to protect victims immediately and offer flexible, longer-term protection by imposing requirements on perpetrators. This could include prohibiting contact with the victim or forcing a perpetrator into alcohol or drug treatment programmes.”


Ban on cross-examination of victims by abusers

The Bill will include a provision prohibiting the cross-examination of alleged victims by their alleged abusers in the family courts, a problem exacerbated by the fact that many alleged abusers do not have legal representation, due to the unavailability of legal aid.

The Bill includes a provision to the effect that if the court decides there is no satisfactory alternative, it may appoint a legal representative to cross-examine the alleged victim, the fees of whom may be paid by the state.

Under the enhanced Bill the ban on cross-examination will apply to all family proceedings where there is evidence of domestic abuse.

Another, unrelated, feature of the enhance Bill is that it will require local authorities to provide refuge accommodation for victims of abuse.


Lord Chancellor comments

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Robert Buckland said of the Bill:

“This bill will bolster our response to domestic abuse on every level – strengthening protections for victims, whilst ensuring perpetrators feel the full force of the law.

“From giving courts greater powers through new prevention orders, to barring abusers from cross-examining their victim in the family courts, we are delivering a justice system more resilient than ever to the tackle this horrific crime.”

The Bill is to have its first reading in the House of Commons.