Transforming the Response to Domestic Abuse Consultation Response and Draft Bill – Joint Committee’s findings June 2019

08 / 06 / 2019

In January 2019 the ‘Transforming the Response to Domestic Abuse Consultation Response and Draft Bill’ was published, following consultation with various stakeholders.

It was explained that the Government’s aim is to “support victims, communities and professionals to confront and challenge all types of abuse, wherever they find it”. They confirmed that “ending domestic abuse remains an absolute priority for this government and we will continue to show strong leadership and take decisive action to ensure that we are doing all we can to transform our response and end the suffering and harm that abuse causes”.

Prior to being made into Law, the Draft Bill was to be scrutinised by a Joint Committee and their findings were released on 14 June 2019.

It sets out “nine measures which require primary legislation to implement”; including:

• A statutory definition of “domestic abuse”;
• Establishing the office of Domestic Abuse Commissioner;
• A new Domestic Abuse Protection Notice and Domestic Abuse Protection Order;
• Preventing of perpetrators from cross-examining victims in family court proceedings;
• Complainants of domestic abuse being eligible for special measures in the criminal courts;
• Following release from custody, perpetrators of domestic abuse undergoing polygraph testing as part of the conditions of them being released on licence;
• The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme guidance being placed on a statutory footing;
• Providing secure lifetime tenancies to domestic abuse victims where the local authority is providing them with a tenancy for that reason; and
• “extending the extra-territorial jurisdiction of the criminal courts in England and Wales to further violent and sexual offences”.

Conclusions and Recommendations of the report (in brief):

Some of the highlights are set out below. Please note that this is not a comprehensive list of all of the recommendations (which run to over 100 pages!):

Multi-agency working
• It has been determined that there needs to be a multi-agency approach to deal with domestic abuse.
• Job centres are now providing staff with training to identify domestic abuse and in cases of financial hardship, advanced payments can be made.
• Payments of universal credit should not further make victims of domestic abuse suffer.

The Violence against Women and Girls strategy
• It is said that there are links to other issues women and girls face.
• There should be an integration of policies.
• These issues do not just affect women and girls and others should not be excluded.

Territorial extent
• Northern Ireland should be included in the legislation.

Statutory definition
• It was recommended that the definition of domestic abuse be widened to cover Female Genital Mutilation, forced marriage, honour-based crimes, coercive control related to immigration status and modern slavery and exploitation.
• Broad categories of behaviour will be set out.
• A single occurrence may be sufficient (it does not have to be ongoing behaviours).
• The age limit of 16 will apply under the statutory definition of 16.
• It is recommended that the Government review the position for under 16s
• It was said that “We are concerned over the absence from the definition of children as victims of abuse perpetrated by adults upon adults and the evidence that we have heard that this has a negative impact on services for children who have suffered such trauma. We recommend that the Bill be amended so the status of children as victims of domestic abuse that occurs in their household is recognised,,,”.
• The “same household” criterion should be reconsidered as people do not necessarily need to live together for domestic violence to take place.
• The criterion should cover those who are “personally connected” such as carers.
• All are included – it does not just cover women.

Policing
• Abuse other than violence or the threat of violence will now also be included.
• “Domestic Abuse Protection Orders may be applied for without the victim’s consent by the police, specialist agencies and third parties with the consent of the court. We believe it is a key strength of the proposed orders that they can be made by police without the victim’s consent: the nature of domestic abuse is such that pressure not to take action against the perpetrator will be overwhelming and it would significantly weaken the protective effect of the orders if only victims were able to apply for them”.
• The above Orders can be potentially indefinite in length. This may mean that the Courts will grant them less than other types of Orders (Domestic Violence Protection Orders) – which is concerning.
• Guidance should be provided.
• Applying for these types of Orders should not incur a fee for the police.
• During the review period, additional resources should be allocated to the police for training, etc.
• The Government’s decision to put Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (“Clare’s law) on a statutory footing is endorsed.

Justice System
• “We welcome the proposal that complainants in criminal proceedings for an offence involving behaviour that amounts to domestic abuse will be automatically eligible for special measures”.
• This should specifically cover victims of domestic abuse engaging in family and other statutory proceedings and this should be put on a statutory basis.
• Polygraphs have been used previously to monitor sex offenders and this is proposed to be extended to domestic abuse perpetrators. The recommendations state that “It must be absolutely clear that no statements or data from the polygraph test can be used in the criminal courts..”.
• It was explained that Cafcass have the primary responsibility in children proceedings to ensure that the children’s voices are heard – to help the Court to decide what is in their best interests. A review should take place to ascertain “how Cafcass can improve its obligations in this regard”. It having been said that where there are domestic abuse allegations, Cafcass often do not want to have contact with the relevant parents.
• They were keen on Judges and Magistrates meeting directly with children in children proceedings and hope to encourage this.
• Perpetrator programmes will be increased to try to help stop individuals reoffending.
• Perpetrator interventions must be tailored to the individual.

Refuges and support services
• Further funding and places are required and they welcome the Government’s announcement to help deal with this.
• They say that clarity in how this will be achieved is required.

Migrant women
• Migrant women should be included. “Some women with insecure immigration status are faced with the choice of staying with a perpetrator of abuse or becoming homeless and destitute because they do not know how to get help or may not be entitled to support and may be at risk of detention and deportation. Because of this vulnerability, immigration status itself is used by perpetrators of domestic abuse as a means to coerce and control”.
• The police service provides a critical role, with them often being the first port of call.
• Victims who report domestic violence must be protected and agencies should not be checking their immigration status.

Other issues
• English and Welsh government agencies should co-operate with one another.
• Education in schools in respect of healthy relationships is thought to be a good idea.
• More work needs to be done to change people’s perspectives of domestic abuse and what constitutes it.
• Early intervention is key.

Domestic Abuse Commissioner
• Recommended that the position is full time.
• This relevant individual would need to work with a range of agencies – e.g. those involved in housing, education and healthcare.
• It is recommended that the individual should not be responsible to the Home Office – there is a possibility for a conflict of interest.
• Instead, they recommend that the individual be responsible to the Cabinet Office.