Consultation on domestic violence bill
Earlier this month (8 March 2018), the government announced a “tough new approach ” to tackle domestic abuse.
The plans include new Domestic Abuse Protection Orders to better shield victims against further abuse by enabling courts to impose a range of conditions on abusers. These could be compulsory alcohol treatment, attending a programme to address their underlying attitudes or addictions, and using electronic tagging to monitor them. Under the proposals, breaching the order would become a criminal offence.
Lawyers and other commentators have questioned the appropriateness of these measures which the Home Office is proposing could be ordered at an early stage in proceedings before guilt has been admitted or established.
The government has also proposed the creation of a statutory aggravating factor in sentencing, similar to those already in law for hate crimes, for domestic abuse to toughen sentences when it involves or affects a child, and the creation of a Domestic Abuse Commissioner to hold the government to account.
Economic abuse will be recognised for the first time as a type of domestic abuse, covering controlling circumstances in which victims have finances withheld, are denied access to employment or transport, or are forced to take out loans and enter into other financial contracts. The aim is that recognition of a wide range o ffomrs of domestic abuse will improve understanding among frontline professionals, law enforcement officers and prosecutors so that action can be taken more quickly and effectively to better support victims.
On the same day, the Home Office and Ministry of Justice jointly announced a wide-rangin consultation into the proposed measures.
This consultation seeks to address domestic abuse at every stage from prevention through to rehabilitation. It references the connections and provisions of cross-sector agencies and departments and reinforces the Government’s aim to make domestic abuse everyone’s business.
The two departments state that the consultation aims to harness the knowledge and expertise of victims and survivors, support organisations and research experts and encourage submissions from professionals across policing, criminal justice, health, welfare, education and local authorities who deal with these issues everyday.
The central aim through this work is to prevent domestic abuse by challenging the acceptability of abuse and addressing the underlying attitudes and norms that perpetuate it. This consultation asks questions under four main themes with the central aim of prevention running through each.
- 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 that they receive.
- Pursue and deter – to provide an effective response to perpetrators from initial agency response through to conviction and management 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.
For each of these themes the consultation outlines the current position and identifies potential areas where more could be done. These areas are at different stages of development, and the accompanying questions reflect this. In some instances the government asks for feedback on specific proposals, whilst in others it requests evidence or experiences to further understand the problem.
The consultation has mainly been welcomed although some experts have suggested that the proper funding of women’s refuges (60% referrals were rejected last year because there were no vacancies) should be more of a priority than increased police powers.
You can find the consultation here.