Published: 23rd June 2017
Draft legislation for a new Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill was announced during the Queen's Speech on 21 July 2017, with a view to transform the Government's approach to tackling domestic violence in England and Wales.
In the briefing notes, the Government announced that it has brought forward the draft legislation to protect the victims of domestic violence and abuse and that the purpose of the Bill is to ‘transform [the] approach to domestic violence and abuse to ensure that victims have the confidence to come forward and report their experiences, safe in the knowledge that the state and justice system will do everything it can to both support them and their children, and pursue the abuser.’
It was announced that the main benefits of the Bill are to give greater protection to victims of abuse and to give the justice system greater guidance and clarity on the devastating impact domestic violence and abuse can have on families.
This announcement comes as a result of the latest statistics from the 2015/16 Crime Survey for England and Wales, which revealed that the number of incidents reported were at the lowest levels since the survey began, with only 7.7% of women and 4.4% of men reporting that they have experienced domestic abuse in the last 12 months. The worry is that not enough people are coming forward to report incidents of domestic abuse for fear of not getting the right support or the protectionfrom their abuserthat they need.
The survey highlighted that a record number of prosecutions and convictions for domestic abuse took place during 2015/16, with 100,930 prosecutions and 75,235 convictions recorded. The survey also revealed that 11% of all offences recorded by the police were related to domestic abuse and that around 20% of children have been exposed to at least one incident of domestic abuse.
The main objective of the new Bill is to establish a Domestic Violence and Abuse Commissioner who will be responsible for raising public awareness of domestic violence, monitoring the response of statutory agencies and local authorities and challenging the justice system to ensure that they are tackling domestic abuse and standing up for victims.
The Bill will also help to define domestic abuse in law and create a consolidated new domestic abuse civil prevention and protection order. It is also promising lengthier punishments for abusers who are found guilty of abusing children, giving the courts the power to hand out sentences that reflect the devastating life-long impact that domestic abuse can have on a child.
The Chief Executive of Women's Aid, Polly Neate, said on anticipation of the announcement: ‘An improved response to domestic violence is not all about the criminal justice system, and all parties need to look beyond this. If the Commissioner is truly independent and has the power to hold all agencies at local level to account, however, this could be a very positive way forward. One of the most frightening obstacles survivors of domestic violence face is the sheer ignorance of local public services, like councils, the health service and others, and their unwillingness to treat domestic violence as the crisis it really is. At the moment, local services are being decimated and both early intervention and long-term support are virtually non-existent. A new Domestic Violence Bill will also be welcomed if it ensures an end to a situation where women and children too often must flee for their lives while perpetrators walk free and continue attempts at coercive control through the family courts.’
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