Today's Home Office-related business includes the launch of the Government's consultation on the Domestic Abuse Bill.
Launch of Domestic Abuse Bill consultation
This morning, the Home Secretary launched a consultation on measures that could be included in a new Domestic Abuse Bill.
The proposals include new Domestic Abuse Protection Orders to allow police and courts to act earlier and more effectively when abuse is suspected.
The Home Secretary carried out an extensive media round this morning, including appearances on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, BBC Breakfast and BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning.
During the interviews, the Home Secretary outlined how technology advances should make it possible for judges to impose tagging orders on domestic abusers and for police to monitor these people. When asked about women's refuges for domestic abuse survivors, the Home Secretary noted there had been a 10% increase in bed spaces since 2010 and the consultation would explore the best funding models for refuges.
Coverage in this morning newspapers, including the Guardian, Mirror, Sun and Express, notes that people accused of domestic abuse could be banned from drinking and put on a tag under a new civil order that would enable courts to put a range of restrictions on perpetrators. The Times reports that under another proposal, economic abuse could be included under the definition of domestic abuse.
Please find a comment from the Home Secretary below as well as a factsheet outlining the public consultation.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd said:
It is appalling that in twenty-first century Britain, nearly two million people every year – the majority of them women – suffer abuse at the hands of those closest to them.
Through this Bill I want to fundamentally change the way we as a country think about domestic abuse, recognising that it is a crime that comes in many forms – physical, emotional, economic. This is about creating a society that protects individuals and families at the earliest opportunity, before such abuse has a chance to escalate.
This is a once in a generation opportunity to transform our entire approach to this terrible crime. I call on everyone, but especially those who have suffered abuse in any form, to speak out and help shape the way we approach this crime for years to come.
Factsheet: Public consultation on Domestic Abuse
The Government is beginning a 12-week consultation on a programme of work to tackle domestic abuse, part of which will include a landmark draft Domestic Abuse Bill. The aim of this work is to address domestic abuse at every stage from prevention through to rehabilitation and reinforces the Government’s aim to make domestic abuse everyone’s business.
Victims, survivors, frontline professionals, charities and the public are being invited to submit their views on what should be included in both this landmark piece of legislation and package of supporting non legislative action.
The full consultation can be viewed here and an easily accessible shortened counterpart version of the consultation is also available here.
Facts about domestic abuse
- Domestic abuse is often recognised as physical, but it can take the form of psychological, sexual, emotional or economic abuse.
- Since 2010, Crown Prosecution Service figures show there has been a 26% increase in domestic abuse prosecutions and a 33% increase in domestic abuse convictions.
- There has been steep increases in police recorded instances of domestic abuse – a 16% increase between 2015/16 and 2016/17. However, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) estimates only a fifth of victims speak to the police in the first place.
- The ONS data indicates the prevalence of domestic abuse is at its lowest ever level, but still nearly two million people every year – the majority of them women – suffer from domestic abuse at the hands of those closest to them.
- Tragically, 82 women and 13 men were killed by a partner or former partner in 2016/17.
- Evidence shows that those who suffer domestic abuse are vulnerable to other crimes such as serious sexual assault and stalking.
- ONS data also shows that adults who witnessed domestic abuse as a child in their home were far more likely to experience abuse by a partner as an adult (34% compared with 11% who did not witness domestic abuse).
Government action so far
- Since 2010, the Government has introduced a range of protection orders (including restraining orders, non-molestation orders, and occupation orders), introduced anonymous voter registration, the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (also known as Clare’s Law), made Domestic Homicide Reviews mandatory and introduced a new offence of controlling or coercive behaviour.
- The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS) and Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPO) have been rolled out nationally to improve the protection available to victims. In 2016-17 there were over 3,400 disclosures made under the DVDS scheme and over 3,000 DVPOs have been put in place.
- We have provided £100m in dedicated funding to tackle violence against women and girls. This includes £20m for accommodation-based services such as refuges, which has already provided 2,200 additional bed spaces benefiting 19,000 women.
- Since 2010, the number of refuge bed spaces has risen by 10%.
- The controlling or coercive behaviour offence came into force on Tuesday 29 December 2015. It carries a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment, a fine or both. It means that victims who experience coercive and controlling behaviour that stops short of serious physical violence, but amounts to extreme psychological and emotional abuse, can bring their perpetrators to justice. In 2016, 155 defendants were prosecuted under the new coercive and controlling behaviour offence. Since 2010, domestic abuse prosecutions have risen by 26% and convictions by 33%.
Funding review for refuges
This Government is completely committed to developing a sustainable funding model for refuges, and to ensuring that there is no postcode lottery when it comes to provision across the country. That is why the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government is reviewing the way in which refuges and supported housing are delivered.
We have heard the need for sustainable funding for refuges which is why we asked all the charities and organisations working on the frontline to feed in their expertise and come forward with their ideas as to how best to deliver this on the ground. That process is ongoing – and we’ve been clear no options are off the table as we work with them to ensure women requiring support in their time of need are not let down.
Bed spaces have increased by 10 per cent since 2010 and all refuges currently funded by the welfare system will continue to be funded at the same level by local authorities in 2020/21. We are investing £100m in tackling violence against women and girls up to the 2020 spending review period, of which £20 million is already providing 2,200 additional bed spaces in refuge and safe accommodation, benefiting 19,000 victims.
We believe that families with lifetime tenancies who have made the decision to leave an abusive situation should also not have to forfeit their security of tenure. The Government’s Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill will maintain the status of survivors living in social housing with an existing lifetime tenancy when they move to a new social property.
Public consultation on Domestic Abuse
Funding for domestic abuse support
The Government recognises that while legislation is necessary to end the harms caused by domestic abuse, it will take more than new laws to make a lasting difference.
The Government has today announced how an extra £12m will be used to support women and children affected by domestic abuse and the public consultation asks how a further £8m should be spent to help protect survivors, potential victims and help them overcome the trauma they have experienced. Funding announced today includes:
- £2m of the funding will support domestic abuse work with female offenders and reach vulnerable women with complex needs who may be at risk of offending or re-offending. We know that between 60-70% of female offenders have experienced domestic abuse and more than a third have a problem with a current partner . We are committed to ensuring that the complex needs of female offenders are met and that the right support is in place in the community to avoid vulnerable women entering the criminal justice system.
- An £8m fund will be allocated to support children who witness domestic abuse through locally commissioned projects. Studies have shown that adults who witnessed domestic abuse as a child in their home are more likely to experience abuse by a partner as an adult.
- As part of important initiatives designed to make tackling domestic abuse everybody’s business, £2m has been use to extend a healthcare pathfinder pilot across further hospital trusts to help direct domestic abuse victims to the full range of services they need.
Domestic Abuse Bill
As announced in the Queen’s Speech this Government is bringing forward a draft Domestic Abuse Bill this session. The main measures being considered include:
First definition of domestic abuse to include economic abuse
The Bill includes plans to for the first time create a statutory definition of domestic abuse, which will cover psychological, physical, sexual, economic, and emotional abuse.
Controlling someone’s access to money, material possessions, their ability to work or coercing someone into debt can be absolutely detrimental to a victim’s self-sufficiency. Its inclusion will place it on the same statutory footing as other forms of abuse and make prosecutions of this little-understood but equally devastating behaviour possible.
New civil orders will allow police and courts to act earlier and more effectively when abuse is suspected
The consultation will look at introducing new Domestic Abuse Protection Orders (DAPOs), to give police and courts the power to place conditions on repeat and serial perpetrators.
- DAPOs would combine the strongest elements from existing protective orders with criminal sanctions for breaching its terms.
- Courts would be given the power to set longer periods than the current 28 days.
- In addition, they would also include the power to place positive requirements on offenders such as attendance at a perpetrator programme or alcohol and drug treatment programmes.
- Perpetrators could be subject to electronic tagging for the first time.
Establish an independent Domestic Abuse Commissioner in Law
The role of an independent Commissioner would be to stand up for victims and hold the Government at a local and national level to account. The Commissioner, similar to those already in place for counter terrorism, would have the power and resources to provide public leadership on this issue that would include:
- Monitoring the provision of domestic abuse services such as refuges;
- Oversee the Domestic Homicide Review Quality Assurance process;
- Provide recommendations to public bodies, including national and local Government to improve the response to domestic abuse.
Tougher sentences for domestic abuse cases involving children
ONS data also shows that adults who witnessed domestic abuse as a child in their home were far more likely to experience abuse by a partner as an adult. In February 2018, the Sentencing Council brought in new guidance which makes clear that the context of domestic abuse, such as if it is witnessed by children, should be taken into account when sentencing a domestic abuse perpetrator.
Plans in the consultation would put a new statutory aggravating factor in law, similar to those already in place for hate crimes. This would mean courts would have to consider tougher sentences up to the maximum penalty available, especially when children are involved. With a statutory aggravating factor, the court could be required to consider that factor, and to state in open court that they had done so.
Enshrine the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, known as Clare’s Law, in legislation
In 2016-17 there were over 3,400 disclosures made under the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS) allowing police to disclose information about previous violent offending by a new or existing partner and build better protection for victims.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) domestic abuse thematic report in 2017 reported that police forces need to raise awareness of the DVDS amongst victims
To drive greater use and consistent application of the DVDS, the consultation proposes putting the guidance underpinning the scheme into law, which would place a duty on the police to follow the guidance and disclose information when appropriate.
Special measures for domestic abuse victims giving evidence in court
The consultation will be looking at the experience survivors have when giving evidence in criminal courts. It proposes giving domestic abuse victims the same status in court as those who have suffered modern slavery or sex offences. Such a move would afford them the same automatic eligibility for the range of special measures available in criminal proceedings, such as giving evidence behind a screen or via video link.
Family courts have a range of powers to make sure difficult courtroom situations are handled sensitively for vulnerable witnesses. The Government is committed to having a specific power for family courts to prevent perpetrators of abuse (alleged or otherwise) from cross-examining their victims in person.