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What is the Domestic Abuse Bill?

In March 2017, according to the Office for National Statistics, there were 464,886 cases of domestic abuse cases recorded by the police in England and Wales. In order to try and deal with the issue of domestic abuse, the Prime Minister introduced plans to transform the way domestic abuse is thought of and tackled by way of a new Domestic Abuse Bill.

The draft Domestic Abuse Bill was published on 21st January 2019. It sets out a new approach to deal with domestic abuse and aims to deal with it at every stage from prevention to rehabilitation.

The bill has four main aims: –

  1. Increase awareness and understanding of domestic abuse across statutory agencies and public attitudes;
  2. Improve the support and protection given to victims of domestic abuse and children who are affected by it;
  3. Transform the justice process and the perpetuator response; and
  4. Improve consistency and performance in the response to domestic abuse across all agencies.

What changes is the draft Domestic Abuse Bill proposing?

  • New statutory definition of domestic abuse: This is an attempt to ensure all domestic abuse is understood and covered. The proposed definition contains many forms of abuse, including economic abuse. The definition includes different types of relationships, such as previous partners, and diverse victims, such as members of the LGBT community and people with a disability. The bill also recognises the impact domestic abuse can have on children and so includes those aged ’16 or over’.
  • Treating domestic abuses cases similar to the way in which the criminal justice system treats sensitive cases such as sexual abuse cases.
  • Automatic special measures: Special measures are provisions put in place in the criminal courts for vulnerable and intimidated victims and usually involve placing a screen in the court to allow the victim to give evidence without being seen by the defendant or public gallery. This usually needs to be applied for by the victim and it must then be established that they are in fear or distress. This would mean a victim would not have to face their abuser and so make it easier for victims to have a voice.
  • Prohibition of direct cross-examination of a victim by their abuser:In criminal proceedings this is possible for defendants who do not have legal representation, however the court has the ability to appoint legal representation for the defendant. The family courts do not currently have this kind of power and so this is what the bill intends to introduce.

The draft bill therefore makes domestic abuse easier to understand and identify as well as making the court process easier and less traumatic for the victim. It remains to be seen whether the bill will be implemented, however it certainly indicates a step in the right direction towards greater protection for victims of domestic abuse.