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Revolutionary Domestic Abuse Bill takes one step closer to being passed

View profile for Graeme Barclay
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The highly anticipated Domestic Abuse Bill has recently passed its final stage in the House of Commons and will now be debated in the House of Lords before bringing into force a variety of new measures that will change the landscape for those who have been subjected to abuse.  Graeme Barclay, Family Law Partner, reviews how the Bill aims to support victims of domestic abuse and explains more about why this change is needed.

What is the Domestic Abuse Bill?

The Domestic Abuse Bill (The Bill) was originally introduced by Theresa May in 2019 following a consultation in 2018; however the election in December last year saw its passing delayed.  The changes were set out with 3 key objectives:

  1. To raise awareness and understanding of domestic abuse and the subsequent impact it has on not only the victims but their families. 
  2. To improve the effectiveness of the justice system by prioritising the safety of domestic abuse victims, while reviewing the response to the perpetrators.
  3. To provide stronger support to domestic abuse victims from local authorities, including placing a duty of care on local councils to provide shelter.

In order to achieve these particular goals, some 123 ground-breaking legislative and practical changes are being introduced under the Bill, which include:

  • Perpetrators will no longer be able to cross-examine their victim in Court, and victims will be given a statutory right to special measures in Court, such as giving evidence via video link.
  • Development of training for agencies, professionals and first responders, including national guidance for police on serial and repeat perpetrators.
  • Recognition that children who see, hear or experience the effects of domestic abuse are also to be treated as victims.
  • An amendment to the definition of domestic abuse, to include economic abuse, as well as coercive or controlling behaviour.
  • Use of Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders to impose long-term bans on perpetrators making contact.

As with all radical changes in legislation, there have been amendments along the way as new developments and conversations are raised.  The latest amendments to be approved include:

  • A ban on the use of “rough sex defence” in a case when an individual has been killed during sex.  Currently, a person could be charged with manslaughter opposed to murder, as murder is classified as being an intentional act. 
  • “Consent for sexual gratification” will no longer be able to be used as a defence for causing serious harm.

What does the future hold under the Domestic Abuse Bill?

There are still changes being proposed currently, with a focus moving to protections for migrant women in relation to safe reporting and accessing funds or housing and refuge support.  Whilst the Bill currently doesn’t address these particular issues as further research is being undertaken, the Government has pledged a £1.5 million pilot fund to support migrant victims who are unable to access public funds. 

“In spite of future changes, this is an important step forward in securing more support for victims, and raising awareness of the struggles people face on a daily basis,” concludes Graeme.  “It is staggering to see that 2.4 million adults experienced domestic abuse in the year from April 2018 to March 2019.  While this is a decline when comparing the figures to 2005, there is some speculation that this decline is more connected with the fact that individuals do not feel confident or comfortable in reporting their situation; a problem this Bill should address and overcome.  It has been refreshing to see all parties across our Government come together on this Bill, and agree that change has been needed.”

We understand that if you are currently living in an abusive relationship it can be hard to find a way out, and you will be feeling isolated, especially during the recent difficult months of the lockdown imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic.  There are steps you can take, and we can support you in finding the right path.  It may be that obtaining either a Non-Molestation Order or an Occupation Order can assist.  We will only proceed in a way that you are comfortable with and consent to, offering you our knowledge and experience with compassion and understanding.

To find out more about how we can help you during this time, you can contact Graeme or a member of the Family Law team on 023 8071 7431 or email familyenquiries@warnergoodman.co.uk

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.