Family lawyer Safeena Tufail and Criminal lawyer Ravinder Khumra of Wells Burcombe look at how the proposed new Domestic Abuse Bill will enhance protection for victims.
Domestic abuse is one of the most under reported crimes worldwide. UK statistics reveal that it damages the lives of 2 million victims and their families every year. A draft new Domestic Abuse Bill 2019 aims to put an end to the postcode lottery of support for victims of domestic abuse. It places a legal duty on local authorities to deliver support, including secure housing, to survivors of domestic abuse and their children.
The draft bill puts a greater focus on children. It is of particular importance to victims of domestic abuse who are seeking to resolve family law issues. Our family and criminal law teams at Wells Burcombe work together to provide confidential and compassionate expert legal support. This can be to both victims of domestic abuse and those who have been falsely accused of carrying it out.
The Bill – what will change?
The draft Domestic Abuse Bill includes three key measures:
- The provision of a statutory definition. This specifically includes controlling and manipulative non-physical abuse as well as economic abuse.
- Alleged perpetrators of abuse will be forbidden from cross-examining their victims in person in the family courts. This is an extension of the ban on victim/abuser cross-examination already in place for Criminal courts.
- New Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders will be introduced. These place restrictions on the actions of abusers in order to protect victims.
New definition of domestic abuse
A proposed new definition in the Bill provides a broader interpretation as to what can be considered as domestic abuse:
“Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexual orientation. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to: psychological, physical, sexual, economic and emotional forms of abuse.”
Controlling behaviour is defined as a range of acts that make a person feel inferior/subordinate and/or dependent. This can be as a result of isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain. In turn, this deprives them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.
Coercive behaviour is defined as an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation. Or, other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten a person.
The new orders
Domestic Abuse Protection Notice (DAPN)
The Bill will reform the system for serving protection orders against domestic abuse perpetrators.
“The purpose of a DAPN is to secure the immediate protection of a victim of domestic abuse from future domestic abuse by a suspected perpetrator”. In effect, the notice acts as an emergency non-molestation and eviction order. It can be issued by the police with immediate effect. Moreover, the notice is underpinned by a power of arrest.
Domestic Abuse Protection Order (DAPO)
A DAPO will be easier to obtain through a variety of courts than the current eviction or protection orders. It will allow authorities to impose “prohibitions and requirements necessary to protect the victim from future domestic abuse and assist in preventing the perpetrator from carrying out any further domestic abuse.” The order can include prohibitions on contact and communication or can restrict movement or even include electronic monitoring. Additionally, the order can include ‘positive’ intervention. This could include attending a parenting or anger management course or drug and alcohol treatment. A breach of the order may lead to a fine or imprisonment (of up to five years).
A ban on cross examination of victims by the abuser
This particular aspect of the bill has gained significant attention. There have long been concerns that family court proceedings can be used by perpetrators of abuse to try and coerce or manipulate their former partner. The removal of Legal Aid from private family law matters has led to a significant increase in parties accused of domestic abuse representing themselves in family court proceedings.
The Bill will prohibit the cross-examination of victims by their abusers in Family courts. This brings it into line with the procedure in Criminal courts. Likewise, victims will not have to cross-examine their abusers. Instead, a qualified legal representative will conduct any cross examination.
Obviously, any action to reduce the trauma for victims of abuse is welcomed. However, questions remain about the practicalities of the scheme. For example, it is not clear how the legal representatives used for cross examination will be funded.
The Bill is currently going through the legislative process following a period of consultation. If you have any questions about domestic abuse, or controlling or coercive behaviour, please contact criminal lawyer Ravinder Khumra, family lawyer Safeena Tufail. Or,contact any member of our criminal and family law teams in West Drayton on 01895 449288 or in St Albans Hertfordshire on 01727 840900, or email us via our contact page