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Domestic Abuse....Do the proposed new laws go far enough?

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The Government is proposing new laws regarding domestic abuse, which will, for the first time, create a legal definition of domestic abuse, including economic abuse and controlling, manipulative non-physical abuse.

The Home Office estimates that the cost of domestic abuse to society in 2016/2017 was approximately £66bn per year.

The proposed legislation is the biggest shake up to domestic abuse law ever.  The prime minister, Theresa May, has been quoted as saying:-

“Throughout my political career I have worked to bring an end to domestic abuse and support survivors as they take the brave decision to leave their abuser and rebuild their lives.

We know, from the harrowing experiences of victims and their families, that there is still more to do to stamp out this life shattering crime and domestic abuse bill will lead the way in bringing about the changes we need to achieve this.”

In addition to providing a legal definition of domestic abuse, the draft bill going before parliament will also:-

  • Force high-risk perpetrators, upon their release from prison, to undertake mandatory lie-detector tests.
  • Introduce domestic abuse protection orders, placing restrictions on offenders, including creating new powers to force perpetrators into behaviour-changing rehabilitation programmes, where substance abuse is a factor of the domestic abuse.
  • Make victims automatically eligible for special protections when giving evidence in criminal trials
  • Set up a national “domestic abuse commissioner” tasked with improving the response and support for victims across public services.
  • Clarify the workings of “Clare’s Law”, which permits the police to tell a member of the public about concerns regarding a partner’s previous violence.
  • Ban abusers from being able to cross-examine their victims in the family courts.

Domestic abuse charities, Women’s Aid, SafeLives and Refuge have welcomed and hailed the draft bill, acknowledging these proposed reforms to domestic abuse law are long overdue and much needed.  However, concerns have been raised as to whether the Government will afford sufficient funding for the changes to be properly implemented and effective.

It is widely recognised that domestic abuse is at epidemic levels, with two million adults estimated to experience domestic abuse this year.  This accounts for almost 6% of adults in the UK.

Domestic abuse statistics for the year ending March 2018 are as follows:-

  • In accordance with the Crime Survey for England and Wales, undertaken on people aged 16 - 59 years of age, 1.3m woman reported they had been subjected to domestic abuse, compared with 695,000 men.
  • There were only 38 arrests for every 100 recorded crimes.
  • 89,901 cases resulted in prosecution.
  • 12% of prosecutions failed due to victims changing their mind about giving evidence against the perpetrator.

Often victims feel very scared about giving evidence and, at times, are pressurised by their abuser not to give evidence.  It can only be hoped that the proposed new legislation impacts on this, providing reassurance for all complainants that they will be properly supported should the matter proceed through the criminal courts.

One of the major difficulties experienced by victims is finding a place in a refuge to enable them to escape their abusers, with 60% not being able to find a safe place to stay, usually due to lack of space.  It is estimated that 21,084 referrals to refuges in England were declined in 2017/2018, which averages more than 400 referrals declined each week.  Spending by local authorities on refuges has been cut from £31.2m in 2010 to £23.9m in 2017, despite the ever escalating volumes of domestic abuse.

Whether the Governments proposed plans go far enough is yet to be tested, with adequate provisions for funding being at the heart of matters so that the many excellent domestic abuse charities that offer help and support can provide this at the right level.

If you or anyone you know has been subjected to any form of domestic violence and abuse, and require help in obtaining protection for yourself and/or your child(ren), do not hesitate to contact the Domestic Violence and Abuse Department (DVAD) at Emery Johnson Astills, either by phoning 0116 255 4855, or by emailing DVAD@johnsonastills.com in order that we can provide advice as to whether you may be eligible for Legal Aid.

A specially trained member of staff in the DVAD of Emery Johnson Astills will be able to provide urgent advice.