Government Plans To Increase Legal Protection For Domestic Abuse Victims
The Law Of… safeguarding victims of domestic abuse
New measures to help victims of domestic abuse may be introduced by the Government, as part of a major consultation.
Melanie Webb, Associate in Family Law, explains how this will safeguard victims of domestic abuse and ensure they get the support they need.
Keen on changing the way in which domestic abuse is handled in the UK, the Government has confirmed that this consultation may lead to a Domestic Violence and Abuse Act, which could consolidate other relevant legislation.
It may also include new measures to help victims, such as a law that will increase prosecutions and eliminate the 'postcode lottery' influencing the way in which police forces deal with victims of abuse.
This announcement follows justice secretary Liz Truss' recent announcement that domestic violence victims should no longer have to be questioned by their abusers in court. Liz's department also stated that it was looking at measures to restrict the references to the sexual histories of rape complainants when they gave evidence.
Rethinking How Domestic Violence Can Be Tackled
Calling for new ideas on how victims of abuse could be better supported and their abusers made to face the consequences of their actions, the Prime Minister said:
"There are thousands of people who are suffering at the hands of abusers, often isolated and unaware of the options and support available to them to end it."
"Given the central importance of victim evidence to support prosecutions in this area, raising public awareness – as well as consolidating the law – will prove crucial."
During Theresa May's time as Home Secretary she was known for taking a tough stance on dealing with domestic violence. She introduced laws that criminalised coercive control, as well as domestic violence protection orders, and a disclosure scheme that allowed people to find out whether their partners had histories of abuse.
Labour, however, pointed out that rates of domestic violence have been on the rise since 2009:
- Levels of violence against women by their acquaintances has increased
- Violence against women by strangers has remained the same
- The number of male victims of violence has continued to fall
According to Refuge, every week, on average, two women in England and Wales are killed by their current or former partner. Prosecutions relating to domestic violence also reached record levels in England and Wales in 2015 – 2016 and rose by nearly 10%.
There's also been a 17% reduction in the number of specialist refuges available for victims.
Improving Support For Victims
The consultation will last around 12 – 18 months, which will involve gathering suggestions from victims, different charities, providers of services that support the victims of abuse, and other experts.
According to the government, consolidating the law into one act will be beneficial for victims as there are currently too many different offences and procedures in the statute book that have made it tough to tackle domestic violence consistently.
The lack of clarity around how to deal with domestic abuse has resulted in "an unacceptable diversity across the country in terms of the degree of effort put in to try and tackle it", a spokesperson for the Government said.
"Although the prosecution of, and convictions for, such offences have started to improve in recent years, there is inconsistency in the use and effectiveness of the various law-enforcement measures across the country."
Supporting The Government's Goals
Charities that offer support to victims of domestic abuse have welcomed the consultation.
Diana Barran, chief executive of the charity SafeLives, explained that the consultation would make a big difference to "the many victims and survivors who today feel let down by the response they receive."
The chief executive of the charity Refuge, Sandra Horley, also said:
"Theresa May has been a champion for victims of domestic violence for many years, first as home secretary and now as prime minister."
"Refuge has been campaigning for better protection for abused women for 45 years; it is heartening to see such commitment from the government to tackling an issue that claims the lives of two women every week in England and Wales, and blights the childhoods of 750,000 children every year."
"This is really promising news for victims of domestic abuse, who so often fear coming forward because they're worried about whether the law will be able to protect them and their children."
"Making the support available for victims more effective and easily accessible will make a big difference to their lives, but the Government needs to make a long-term commitment to investing in the services offered to victims and their children."
"The fact that there's been a decrease in the number of specialist refuges for victims is really worrying. It takes a lot of courage and strength for those suffering from abuse to seek help, and if there is nowhere for them to go or inadequate support in place this can be really discouraging."
"Whether you would like some advice or would like to find out how the law can protect you, our Family Law solicitors will be happy to help, whenever you're ready."