While the Government’s plans for Brexit was the focus of most of the attention following the bills proposed in the Queen’s Speech, what gained less publicity were the proposed laws intended to support and protect victims of domestic violence and abuse, both from the perpetrators of this abuse and within the justice system itself. At a time when 7.7% of women and 4.4% of men reported experiencing domestic violence within the last year, when 11% of all offences recorded by the police were flagged as domestic abuse related, and that around 1 in 5 children have been exposed to domestic abuse, this couldn’t be more important. So what are the Government proposing?
The draft Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill is intended to introduce legislation to protect the victims of domestic violence and in particular:
- It will establish a Domestic Violence and Abuse Commissioner, whose role will be to stand up for victims and survivors, raise awareness, monitor the response of statutory agencies and local authorities and hold the justice system to account in tackling domestic abuse;
- To provide a single definition of domestic abuse in law in order to underpin all other proposed measures within the Bill;
- To create a consolidated new Domestic Abuse Civil Prevention and Protection Order regime
- To ensure that if abusive behaviour involves a child, that the court can hand down a sentence that reflects the devastating life long impact abuse can have on children.
One thing absent from the Bill is the previously proposed reforms to cross-examination of victims by their abusers within the family court. Fortunately, provision for this can be found in the Courts Bill which was also announced as part of the Queen’s Speech, which provides that such direct cross examination will come to an end. Additionally, it includes plans to extend the use of virtual hearings, i.e. via live video link, so that victims can participate in trials without having to come face to face with their abuser.
Domestic violence charities have been cautiously optimistic about the proposals, although as ever the devil will be in the detail and we will need to wait to see what the actual legislation looks like to see how effective it will actually be. However, these proposals come in the wake of changes to previously very restrictive eligibility for legal aid for victims of domestic violence, whilst earlier this year, changes were introduced so that there would no longer be a presumption of contact between a child and their parent where there had been domestic abuse, and so will hopefully be part of a trend towards a family justice system which puts the welfare of the victims of domestic abuse first and foremost.
If you would like further information or advice about these issues, we have family law specialists available who can provide legal advice and dispute resolution services, including family mediation. If you would wish to speak with one of our Family Law Specialists, please do contact our friendly team.