The recent General Election followed heated debates across Parliament and the media in relation to how to ensure the safety of our country as a whole. However, over the past two years the Government has also placed increasing focus on the safety of individuals suffering violence at home.
Domestic violence is estimated to affect around one in four women, one in six men, and one in five children. It also has more repeat victims than any other crime.
As part of its focus on domestic violence, the Government has placed increasing focus on its policy of ending Violence against Women and Girls (“VAWG”), and also introduced the offence of Controlling or Coercive Behaviour in an Intimate Family Relationship in December 2015.
The Queen’s Speech 2017 today (21 June) confirmed that legislation will be brought forward to protect the victims of domestic violence and abuse.
Changes will be introduced through a new Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill (the “Bill”).
The stated purpose of the Bill is to “transform our approach to domestic violence and abuse to ensure that victims have the confidence to come forward and report their experiences, safe in the knowledge that the state and justice system will do everything it can to both support them and their children, and pursue their abuser.”
The proposed legislation would:
- provide a statutory definition of domestic violence and abuse to increase victims’ understanding of whether they have the basis to make a complaint. There is currently no statutory definition;
- create an aggravated offence of domestic violence against children. Current sentencing guidelines acknowledge violence towards children as an aggravating factor which can lead to an increased sentence. However, it is anticipated that the new aggravated offence would permit the Courts to impose an even higher uplift to sentence where minors are victimised. The Government seeks to ensure that “the court can hand down a sentence that reflects the devastating life-long impact that abuse can have on the child.”
- create a Domestic Violence Commissioner to stand up for victims, to monitor the response to domestic violence, and to hold the police and the criminal justice system to account; and
- establish more clarity regarding how offenders are punished; and
- consolidate all civil and criminal prevention and protection orders.
In addition the Courts Bill to “modernise the courts system” will introduce measures to put an end to the direct cross examination of domestic violence victims by their alleged perpetrators in the family courts. It will also extend the use of virtual hearings, which will allow victims to participate in trials without having to meet their alleged assailant face-to-face.
The Prime Minister has previously stated that a Conservative government will launch “a relentless drive to help survivors find justice and increase the number of successful prosecutions”.