Draft Domestic Abuse Bill bans cross-examination of victims by abusers in family courts

Any legislative changes introduced by the government following the publication of the draft Domestic Abuse Bill needs to be matched with resources, the Local Government Association has warned.

The draft Domestic Abuse Bill https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/domestic-abuse-consultation-response-and-draft-bill contains plans to prohibit the cross-examination of victims by their abusers in the family courts, includes a new government definition of domestic abuse and establishes a Domestic Abuse Commissioner to drive the response to domestic abuse issues.

However, Cllr Simon Blackburn, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, https://www.local.gov.uk/ said: “The ability of councils to fund services for victims is constrained by pressures on their budgets, with local authorities increasingly being forced to prioritise spending for those at immediate risk of harm, rather than on vital earlier support services and prevention schemes which help stop domestic abuse occurring in the first place.

“With local government facing a £3.1 billion funding gap in 2019/20, any legislative changes in this Bill must be matched with adequate resources and funding,” he added.

Chief Executive of Refuge, https://www.refuge.org.uk/ Sandra Horley CBE, welcomed the draft bill but warned: “This bill represents a once in a generation opportunity to address domestic violence; but in order to do so, we must ensure its aspirations are matched by adequate resource. We will continue to work closely with the government to ensure the final bill meets the needs of the women and children we support.”

2 million adults affected

The draft Domestic Abuse Bill, which is aimed at supporting victims and their families and pursuing offenders, comes as the Home Office published a report which found domestic abuse issues cost the country £66 billion a year.

The Home Office report into the economic and social cost of domestic abuse reveals the vast majority of this cost – £47 billion – was a result of the physical and emotional harm of domestic abuse. However it also includes other factors such as cost to health services (£2.3 billion), police (£1.3 billion) and victim services (£724 million).

It is estimated that around two million adults experience domestic abuse each year, affecting almost 6% of all adults and women are twice as likely to be victims than men.

The new legislation will:

– introduce the first ever statutory government definition of domestic abuse to specifically include economic abuse and controlling and manipulative non-physical abuse – this will enable everyone, including victims themselves, to understand what constitutes abuse and will encourage more victims to come forward

– establish a Domestic Abuse Commissioner to drive the response to domestic abuse issues

– introduce new Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders to further protect victims and place restrictions on the actions of offenders

– prohibit the cross-examination of victims by their abusers in the family courts

– provide automatic eligibility for special measures to support more victims to give evidence in the criminal courts.

Destroys lives

The draft bill will also introduce measures to address coercive control and economic abuse, and how domestic abuse affects children and will transform the response in the justice system.

Justice Secretary David Gauke said: “Domestic abuse destroys lives and warrants some of the strongest measures at our disposal to deter offenders and protect victims.

“That is why we are barring abusers from cross-examining their victims in the family courts – a practice which can cause immense distress and amount to a continuation of abuse – and giving courts greater powers, including new protection orders, to tackle this hideous crime.

“By pursuing every option available, to better support victims and bring more offenders to justice, we are driving the change necessary to ensure families never have to endure the pain of domestic abuse in silence,” he added.

Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, Director of Surviving Economic Abuse http://survivingeconomicabuse.org/  said: “Economic abuse can prevent victims from leaving an abuser and thwart their efforts to rebuild their lives safely – it can even create new risks.

“Through committing to ensure that practitioners have access to training and guidance on economic abuse, the government has recognised that physical and economic safety are entwined.

“These new measures will help bring economic abuse out of the shadows and will transform responses, ensuring that victim-survivors are able to access the support they so desperately need,” she added.

Crisis support system

The government is making 120 commitments to tackle domestic abuse between the draft bill and its consultation response, including a series of non-legislative measures.

The Home Office will provide £8 million of funding to support children affected by domestic abuse and additional funding of £500,000 will support male victims of domestic abuse.  Additional funding and capacity building will be provided for services for disabled, elderly and LGTB victims of domestic abuse.

There will be improved support for victims in the family court and a new crisis support system for those with no recourse to public funds.

Furthermore, social workers, police, probation staff and job centre work coaches will be provided with new and additional training to help them recognise and effectively tackle abuse.

Postcode lottery

A joint statement from Barnardo’s http://www.barnardos.org.uk/index.htm and Action for Children https://www.actionforchildren.org.uk/, said: “The government has made the first step in recognising the needs of children, young people and families affected by domestic abuse.

“The pledged £8 million allocated to projects across the country will help in alleviating some of the long term and heart-breaking impact of domestic abuse on children and the long-lasting emotional scars seen day in and day out by our services.

“Living in a household where abuse takes place is hugely traumatic for children and we must recognise them as victims, not just witnesses. Research shows children who experience domestic abuse are more likely to become involved in an abusive relationship themselves, or to suffer mental and physical health problems.

“What is clear now is that the Bill and its associated guidance should ensure that all children and young people affected by domestic abuse have access to specialist support services in their area. The government needs to work with local authorities to end the current postcode lottery of services for children. We’re pleased ministers will consult further on the draft Bill before introducing it to Parliament and we’re committed to working together to ensure we seize this opportunity to protect child victims of domestic abuse,” the statement concluded.