The Director at The Family Law Company has responded to the recent government declination to establish a legal definition for honour-based abuse and has described it as “hugely disappointing”.
The rejection comes after the Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) made a series of recommendations in July, stating that such abuse remains a hidden crime and one which victims are hesitant to report without greater assurance that they would be protected from further abuse.
The government responded on September 15th, saying it already has a working definition used by the Home Office and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). It suggested that enacting a statutory definition would not necessarily enhance the understanding or response to such crimes.
Imran Khodabocus, Director at The Family Law Company whose work includes cases involving honour-based abuse, disagreed, saying:
“For me, this lack of definition is hugely disappointing, and a missed opportunity. It means that legal professionals don’t have certainty from which to work.”
He feels that whilst there is a working definition from the CPS, this doesn’t carry the same weight as a legal definition, giving no clear guidance to local authorities, legal professionals and support services. He said:
“With the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 the government clearly defined what constitutes domestic abuse. This has put into law, what is meant by domestic abuse rather than being some internal guidance and has helped significantly with the recognition of issues such as coercive control, which were previously hidden.
I don’t understand why they are ignoring the similar need for a legal definition for honour-based abuse. It suggests that one form of abuse is more important than another. This lack means that no-one is on the same page; it affects the way we support victims, affects the way authorities record instances of abuse and, for victims of honour-based violence, infers that the abuse they suffer isn’t as significant.”
Imran adds that it also affects the efficacy of support and training. He continued:
“Not everyone will have the same training, which leads to disparate understanding of this complex area of law. As an example, I recently delivered training and during the session, another legal professional told me that they didn’t realise what the term honour based abuse covered, they thought it was just about forced marriages.”
Imran says there is an enormous sense of frustration amongst those in the legal community, and those who work in support services. He said:
“You just can’t safeguard victims if no-one understands what they’re safeguarding against. People simply aren’t equipped to deal with it.
Quite simply, establishing a legal definition would be a solid starting point for increasing support, training and awareness for this very real issue that affects so many every day. One simple solution would be to extend the scope of the current definition of domestic abuse to include – and subsequently define – honour-based abuse.”