Today (3 march 2020) marks the return of a Domestic Abuse Bill to Parliament for its First Reading, after it failed to complete its legislative passage when a General Election was called late last year.
The Bill retains commitments within it which include:
- a statutory definition of domestic abuse, which will recognise economic abuse
- Creation of a new Domestic Abuse Commissioner role
- a new Domestic Abuse Protection Notice and Domestic Abuse Protection Order which could prohibit contact with the victim or force a perpetrator into alcohol or drug treatment programmes (the Government will fund the police costs of applying for these orders)
- extension of the extraterritorial jurisdiction of criminal courts in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to further violent and sexual offences
- a statutory presumption that victims of domestic abuse are eligible for special measures in the criminal courts
- putting the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (“Clare’s law”) on a statutory footing
- ensuring secure lifetime tenancies are offered to some social housing tenants
Some new measures have also been added to the Bill to:
- prohibit perpetrators of abuse from cross-examining their victims in person in the family courts in England and Wales
- create a new duty on local authorities in England to provide accommodation based support to victims of domestic abuse and their children
In addition, the Government have said they will “look at what more can done to stop the so-called ‘rough sex’ defence being used in court by perpetrators” and have mentioned that they have begun a review into what support can be provided to migrant victims of domestic abuse.
Commenting on the latest version of this Bill, Head of Public Affairs at EVAW, Andrea Simon said:
“Whilst we are glad to see the Domestic Abuse Bill back before Parliament, and acknowledge that it contains some important measures, we are disappointed that the disproportionate impact on women and girls is not recognised on the face of the Bill, and the issue of support and safe reporting for migrant women remains neglected. It also lacks specific measures to ensure children can access essential support, and any commitment to ring-fenced funding for specialist services run ‘by and for’ BME women.
Women’s organisations and survivors of domestic abuse have presented a huge amount of evidence already to the government on what needs to be done to address the barriers to accessing refuge and other specialist support faced by women, whose insecure immigration status means they have no recourse to public funds. This includes ensuring all migrant women experiencing abuse have access to the Destitute and Domestic Violence Concession, which is currently limited to women with spousal visas, and can regularise their immigration status independent of their perpetrator.
A Joint Committee of MPs and Peers carried out pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill in the last parliamentary session, and supported calls by the Step Up Migrant Women Coalition to end the practise of Police sharing details of women reporting abuse with the Home Office; it also urged a new statutory definition which recognised that perpetrators use insecure immigration status as a form of coercive control; and it recommended the strengthening of protection against discrimination through a duty on public authorities to provide equal protection and support to all victims of domestic abuse, regardless of immigration status.
If the Government’s intention is to use the Bill to ratify the Istanbul Convention, which is clear that protection and support should be provided regardless of immigration status, there must be further improvements made, or it will remain a ‘missed opportunity’ to address the needs of all survivors.”
EVAW will propose changes to the Bill to ensure that it is linked to and complements the cross- government Violence Against Women Strategy, and has worked with the Equality and Human Rights Commission to develop an amendment which places a statutory duty on Ministers and public authorities to ensure services for survivors are in place, properly funded and equally accessible, in line with the requirements of the Istanbul Convention.