Domestic Abuse Bill to be introduced in Parliament


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New laws to protect survivors of domestic abuse in England and Wales will be introduced in Parliament later.

The Domestic Abuse Bill would place a legal duty on councils to offer secure homes for those fleeing violence and their children, and proposes creating a dedicated domestic abuse commissioner.

Victims Minister Victoria Atkins said it addressed “an injustice that has long needed to be tackled”.

But Women’s Aid said victims’ services were operating “on a shoestring”.

It is estimated that almost two million adults in England and Wales are victims of domestic abuse every year.

Measures in the bill, seen as a key part of Theresa May’s legacy, include:

  • The first government definition of domestic abuse, which will include financial abuse and controlling and manipulative non-physical behaviour
  • Proposals for a Domestic Abuse Commissioner to champion survivors and hold local and national government to account on their actions
  • Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders, which would allow police and courts to intervene earlier where abuse is suspected
  • Prohibiting the cross-examination of victims by their abusers in the family courts
  • Automatic eligibility for special measures to support more victims to give evidence in the criminal courts

Ms Atkins told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire: “Domestic abuse takes many forms, including emotional, economic and sexual abuse, and we’re reflecting that in the definition.

“And that’s important because that then has repercussion in terms of how services are commissioned locally to support victims and survivors.”

Although Mrs May’s premiership comes to an end next week, before the bill has been considered by Parliament, Ms Atkins said both leadership teams had confirmed they were fully behind the bill.

Local authority spending on refuges for abuse victims fell from £31m in 2010 to £23m in 2017.

Charities say there is a dearth of services in many areas, and victims are being turned away when they seek help because refuges with diminished budgets cannot cope with the demand.

The minister said she “absolutely accepts” that funding “is part of this jigsaw”, and amendments – proposed tweaks – to reflect that were likely to be made to the bill at the next stage of the Parliamentary process.

She said there would be a “dialogue with the charities”, but added: “We’re absolutely clear that refuge accommodation must be part of this bill.

“There is more work to do on this bill, but we wanted to continue the momentum, get this bill introduced before recess, so we have a clear run in the autumn to begin the process of legislating it properly.”

‘Landmark moment’

Rachel Williams, domestic abuse survivor, told BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire the bill was a “start”, but there was “lots to be built on”.

“The resources have got to be put out there for frontline services,” she said. “Unless people are on the ground at grassroot levels, it is fruitless.”

Lucy Rose Hadley, from Women’s Aid, told Victoria Derbyshire, the introduction of the bill was a “real landmark moment to improving response to survivors and their children”.

However, she said more funding was key as services were still operating “on a complete shoestring”.

She said the bill also did not include an assurance that migrant women could access refuges – which the charity has been campaigning for – but the government had promised to review that element further.

“We really need to see those commitments if we are to be assured that this bill is going to make a practical difference to people’s lives.”

Protection for migrant women

The Step Up Migrant Women coalition – a group of more than 40 frontline BME and specialist domestic abuse service providers and human rights organisations – also called for greater protection for migrant women, regardless of their immigration status.

Chiara Capraro, Amnesty International’s Women’s Rights programme manager, said: “This is supposed to be a landmark piece of legislation that sets the bar for ensuring the protection and safety of people who experience domestic abuse.

“If some women are blocked from being able to access that support, the bill will fail.”

Councillor Simon Blackburn, chairman of the Local Government Association’s safer and stronger communities board, said councils “support a greater focus on prevention and early intervention measures” continued in the bill, but echoed the call for more funding.

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