Domestic Abuse Bill - Back on the Agenda

25th October 2019 Family Law

Domestic abuse campaigners were relieved to see that the Domestic Abuse Bill, which had been making progress through parliament before it was prorogued is now very much back on the agenda.

Amid all the Brexit speculation and the associated political fallout, it is easy to forget that important pieces of legislation can get caught in the cross-fire. When a parliamentary session ends to make way for the government to make proposals for new legislation, any bill that has not yet been made law is automatically cancelled and can only be revived if the government includes it in its legislative programme - announced via the Queen’s Speech.

The Domestic Abuse Bill was partway through going through parliament when the prorogation controversy began but was rescued - for the time being - by inclusion in the Queen’s Speech.

What will the new legislation do?

The Domestic Abuse Bill is hailed as a new way of responding to domestic abuse in the UK. It will create a new definition of domestic abuse across government departments that will encompass physical violence, but also emotional abuse, coercive or controlling behaviour, and economic abuse. As well as taking practical steps, such as appointing a domestic abuse commissioner to provide oversight on domestic abuse services, the bill is a statement of intent about how our society condemns domestic abuse and acknowledges its devastating consequences.

As family lawyers, we were particularly interested to see that perpetrators of domestic abuse will no longer be able to cross-examine their victims in person in the family court. This provision will be triggered where an abuser has been charged with, convicted of or cautioned

for relevant offences or where a domestic abuse injunction is in place. This will take away the opportunity for perpetrators of domestic abuse to “re-traumatise” a survivor within the family court process. It is understood that if no alternative arrangement can be made, the court will order a legal representative to conduct the questioning and be paid from central funds.

Will the Domestic Abuse Bill ever become law?

It is widely anticipated that there will be a general election in the next few months. Nobody knows who will be in government coming out of that. However, if the Domestic Abuse Bill has not been made law by the time of an election, its inclusion in the Queen’s Speech this month, and the outpouring of support for MP Rosie Duffield following her personal testimony on the subject of domestic abuse in the House of Commons, indicate that a new government of either political persuasion is likely to continue with similar legislation.

What can victims of domestic abuse do under the law now?

The court can make orders designed to protect individuals and their children from certain types of behaviour. It can also put in place conditions to regulate who can and cannot occupy a home.

The first thing to say is that if you feel threatened or think you might be in any danger, you should call the police. They can take immediate action to deal with an imminent threat and thereafter investigate whether a crime has been committed. However, the family court can also help, whether or not the police have been involved. For more information on domestic violence orders, click here.

Domestic abuse affects all social, ethnic and religious groups and is experienced by persons of all genders and sexual orientations. There are no simple solutions but the law can help. If you are thinking about how we might be able to help you, contact us now on 0800 652 557 or use our online enquiry form.

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Danelle Foley is an Associate Solicitor located in Liverpoolin our Family department

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