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What would a domestic violence and abuse bill really mean?

Serena Anand

In the Queen’s Speech, the government committed itself to introducing a new draft Domestic Violence and Abuse bill, a move welcomed by charities such as Refuge and Women’s Aid.

This new bill would include a measure enabling British citizens who have committed certain crimes overseas to be prosecuted within the UK, effectively removing the last legal barrier to the UK ratifying the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women (more commonly referred to as the Istanbul Convention). As stated by Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid Federation England:

“This is a really significant step for survivors. Women’s Aid has long campaigned for the ratification of the Istanbul Convention and this latest announcement removes the last obstacle to ratification so let’s see the Istanbul Convention ratified as soon as the bill is passed.”

The government has further stated that an independent domestic violence and abuse commissioner would be appointed whose role it will be to raise public awareness, hold the judiciary as well as statutory and local authorities to account, and to monitor their responses to domestic violence and abuse on both a local and national level.

Moreover, where abusive behaviour involves a child, the new bill contains clauses to ensure that a court can make a sentence reflecting the life-long impact the abuse may have on the child, and placing responsibility for this harm on the perpetrator rather than the non-abusive parent. Again, Ms. Neate has supported this move, citing Women’s Aid’s Child First campaign which highlighted the devastating harm domestic abuse causes to children:

“We welcome the plans for new robust court orders, they mark a necessary move towards an approach that holds perpetrators to account. This programme of work must be delivered alongside specialist training for the police and judiciary.”

A new, consolidated domestic abuse and civil prevention and protection order regime would also be implemented, replacing the current system which is based on multiple different statutes.

Finally, the draft Domestic Violence and Abuse bill will provide a definition of domestic abuse in law. Sandra Horley CBE, Chief Executive of Refuge, has said:

“We are delighted to see that the bill will include a new statutory definition of domestic violence and abuse. Refuge also welcomes confirmation that there will be a new Courts Bill which will finally prevent domestic violence victims being directly cross-examined by their perpetrators in the family courts.”

This new statutory definition, the new Courts Bill, as mentioned in the quote above, and the powers given to courts, with regard to children subject to domestic abuse and violence have the potential to impact the way domestic violence and abuse are litigated in court on a large scale. Charities such as Refuge and Women’s Aid are working with the government on this bill, and hope that it will provide a difference and help to protect those harmed by domestic abuse.

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