What Does The Future Hold For The Domestic Abuse Bill?

Since 2010 the Government has listed domestic abuse as one of its absolute priorities, focusing on four key areas;

  • To promote awareness of domestic abuse
  • To promote support for victims of domestic abuse
  • To pursue and deter those who have committed acts of domestic abuse
  • And to improve performance of all those responding to and supporting victims of domestic abuse.

Recent figures published by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show that 1.3 million women and 695,000 men were victims of domestic abuse in 2018. The Home Office published a report into the economic and social costs of domestic abuse, revealing a cost of £66 billion in 2016 and 2017. The costs included the physical and emotional harm of domestic abuse and the cost to health and police services.

With these shocking figures it is not a surprise that the Government has set tackling domestic abuse as a priority.

In 2015, domestic abuse had coercive and controlling behaviour added under its definition, under the Serious Crimes Act 2015, (section 76). This addition closed the gap in the law around controlling coercive behaviour in an ongoing relationship between intimate partners or family members.

2017 saw yet more focus on domestic abuse by the Government.  Theresa May launched an open consultation paper, which received more than 3,200 submissions and discussions, as well as engaging with over 1000 people including victims, charities, local authorities and professionals from other organisations.  In her June speech, Her Majesty the Queen, promised to bring forward legislation ‘to protect the victims of domestic violence and abuse’.

Following the consultation, in January 2019 a draft bill was published which included 120 commitments including new civil Domestic Abuse Protection Notice (DAPNs) to provide immediate protection following a domestic abuse incident, and a new civil Domestic Abuse Protection Order (DAPO) to provide flexible, longer-term protection for victims than the current Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPOs) and Domestic Violence Protection Notices (DVPNs).

Another important commitment published was a ban on perpetrators cross-examining victims in family court, a commitment welcomed by women’s charities such as Women’s Aid and by Justice Secretary David Gauke who said the cross-examination by abusers of their victims could cause “immense distress” and amount to “a continuation of abuse”.

The Domestic Abuse Bill was however delayed in being delivered to Parliament, only being presented in July 2019 by Theresa May, one of her final acts and a lasting legacy.  This delay, no doubt another victim of Brexit, may now however be under threat.

At the time of writing there is speculation that Boris Johnson may prorogue Parliament in an attempt to push through a no-deal Brexit.  What would this mean for the Domestic Abuse Bill?  May it be further delayed or even culled on the return of MPs to Parliament? Boris Johnson is yet to reply to a letter from over 30 women’s groups asking his pledge to the Domestic Violence Bill, and Johnson’s spokesman has not yet responded to direct questions on whether the new Prime Minister supports the bill.

Labour MP Harriet Harman, an avid campaigner on equality issues for over four decades, when questioned about the future of the bill during the Tory leadership campaign stated that:

“Neither of the two leadership candidates have been what you might call champions of the cause of domestic violence, tackling domestic violence, that is simply a fact.”.

So after almost a decade of progress on tackling domestic abuse, what effect will Boris Johnson’s possible proroguing of Parliament and any future debate have on the Bill introduced by his predecessor? 

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