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The Bill is intended to create, for the first time, a cross-government statutory definition of domestic abuse. It’s hoped that this will help ensure that domestic abuse is properly understood by professionals and the public alike.
Despite the Coronavirus understandably monopolising Parliament’s time, the long-awaited Domestic Abuse Bill was debated on the 28th April and the Bill has now been sent to a Public Bill Committee to be scrutinised line by line.
The Bill is welcome news to me as a Family Law practitioner. My hope is that greater understanding leads to greater awareness, support and protection for families involved in domestically abusive relationships.
The starting point has to be for victims and abusers to be able to recognise when behaviour is inappropriate and could therefore amount to domestic abuse. Having a statutory definition and clear guidance, which is applied consistently across all public agencies and support services, will help to ensure that this message begins to be heard.
The Bill will repeal the existing Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPO) and Domestic Violence Protection Notices (DVPN) but Non Molestation Orders and Restraining Orders will remain available. The intention is that Non-Molestation Orders and Restraining Orders will be used in cases which are not domestic abuse related- such as stalking or harassment and the perpetrator is not a current or ex-partner or a family member.
Two new orders are proposed- a Domestic Abuse Protection Notice (DAPN) to provide immediate protection following an incident of domestic abuse and a Domestic Abuse Protection Order (DAPO) which is intended to provide flexible, longer-term protection.
A DAPN would be issued by the police, in a similar way to DVPNs are currently and would require a perpetrator to leave the victim’s home for a period of time, up to 48 hours. They provide limited protection beyond an initial ‘cooling-off’ period.
A DAPO is intended to become the ‘go to’ protective order in domestic abuse cases. The proposed DAPO contains a raft of additional powers such as requiring a perpetrator to attend a parenting course, an alcohol or drug rehabilitation programme or to access mental health treatment. Electronic tagging can also be imposed and all DAPOs will include notification requirements, meaning that perpetrators will need to notify the police of their name and address and any change to this information.
These proposed changes will mean that being subject to a DAPO will be far more onerous for perpetrators, but the hope is the wide range of prohibitions and requirements available will enable the courts to impose a tailor made order that will adequately protect the victim according to their specific case.
Any breach will be a criminal offence- with the risk of a maximum of 5 years’ imprisonment, or a fine, or both. Where there is a positive requirement imposed upon the perpetrator, the order will specify the person responsible for supervising compliance with the requirements and reporting any breach to the police. It’s not clear who will carry this responsibility and potentially it will fall to course providers.
The Bill also intends to prohibit alleged perpetrators from cross-examining their alleged victims within the family court arena. Similar to criminal proceedings where a defendant may have a court-appointed legal representative in certain circumstances, the suggestion is that a legal representative may be appointed and paid from central funds in relation only to cross-examining the alleged victim.
This is a much needed change to ensure that those who are perpetrators of domestic abuse are not able to continue to abuse their victim through the court process. It is vital to help the accuser to put forward their allegations without his or her evidence being tainted due to fear or intimidation.
A Domestic Abuse Commissioner will also be established to raise awareness of issues around domestic abuse and to be a voice for victims and survivors.
The Committee are scheduled to report on the Bill by the 25th June 2020.
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