Earlier this year, the government confirmed its pledge to tackle domestic abuse with the announcement of a draft Domestic Abuse bill on 21 January 2019. The bill introduces a variety of changes to the law with the ultimate purpose of preventing domestic violence and protecting victims. Amongst the 120 proposed changes to the law include:
- A clear cut definition of “domestic abuse” to cover both physical and non-physical violence (i.e. controlling and/or manipulating behaviour, financial / economic abuse etc.)
- Improving the use and operation of Clare’s Law; a scheme which allows the police to reveal information to someone concerning their partner’s past abusive history with the aim of giving them an opportunity to escape a potential abusive relationship
- Stopping victims from being cross-examined in court by the perpetrators of the domestic abuse
- The appointment of a Domestic Abuse Commissioner as the public leader on domestic abuse issues and protecting victims
- Widening the availability of special measures in courts to protect and reassure victims (e.g. separate waiting rooms, video links etc.)
- Replacing the Domestic Violence Protection Order with Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders with the focus on “abuse” as opposed to “violence”, thus winding the scope of the police and courts to help victims
With the increase in reports of domestic abuse over the past few years, the draft bill is the first real pledge to make a national change and is needed now more than ever. An article published by the BBC today reveals that the number of individuals who have been murdered as a result of domestic abuse is at a five-year high. The article confirms that 173 people were killed last year due to domestic violence related homicides and sets out case studies of a number of victims who tragically lost their lives. You can read the full article here
Unfortunately, however, progress with the draft bill has ground to a halt following the recent proroguing of parliament, which many see as nothing other than an unnecessary part of the “tactics” regarding Brexit. The prorogue prevents parliament from being able to deliberate on or pass news laws, meaning draft bills will either be automatically lost or be carried over until parliament is back up and running.
Naturally, this has caused concerns amongst the public about the progression of the draft Domestic Abuse bill. Such concerns were voiced by Sir James Munby (former President of the Family Division in the High Court) who, in an interview with BBC Radio 4’S Today Programme, said that the vitally important bill…
“…must be reintroduced in parliament as soon as the next session starts. It must then be pursued to the earliest possible conclusion of the parliamentary process with determination, vigour and a real sense of urgent commitment on the part of government.”
Pressure has since been put on Boris Johnson as Prime Minister to confirm the position and put everyone’s minds at ease. Luckily, he confirmed that the draft bill will be introduced following the Queen’s speech, expected on 14 October 2019 and once parliament returns. In a tweet published on 12 September 2019, Boris Johnson said:
“Domestic abuse shatters lives & tears families apart. We are fully committed to tackling this horrific crime – which is why the Queen’s Speech will confirm we will be reintroducing domestic abuse legislation in the next session”.
Whilst this is good news for the national campaign to tackle domestic abuse, unfortunately, it does mean that all of the work undertaken since the bill was first introduced in July 2019 is now lost.
Upon the return of parliament, it is hoped that the draft bill will be revived and then progressed with the same determination as when it was first announced earlier in July. Until then, we will have to await further updates from the government as to the future of the draft Domestic Abuse bill.