Nearly two years after the government pledged to end the cross-examination of domestic violence victims by their alleged abusive ex-partners in the family courts, it has finally unveiled a draft bill to end the controversial practice.
The landmark bill will also introduce the first statutory definition of domestic abuse to specifically include economic abuse and controlling, manipulative non-physical abuse.
In criminal proceedings, the court can make an order preventing an unrepresented defendant cross-examining the alleged victim in person. In family proceedings, judges can use their general case management powers to prevent a victim from being cross-examined in person by the alleged perpetrator, but the family court currently cannot appoint a legal representative to represent the victim. If the bill is passed, it will mean that the victim will have legal representation to conduct the cross-examination in their place.
Campaigners say the measures are a "once in a generation" opportunity to combat the impact of abuse.
Sally Ward from Gepps comments: perpetrators of domestic abuse will often use court proceedings to continue that abuse and the draft bill will go some way to prevent this.
The draft bill going before MPs will also:
- Create new powers to force perpetrators into behaviour-changing rehabilitation programmes
- Make victims automatically eligible for special protections when they are giving evidence in criminal trials
- Set up a national "domestic abuse commissioner" tasked with improving the response and support for victims across public services
The legislation will also clarify the workings of "Clare's Law" – a measure introduced four years ago to permit police to tell a member of the public of concerns over a partner's previous violence.
There are many other hidden impacts, including the damaged life chances for children scarred by what they experience. Campaigners are still calling for more protection measures to be put in place for children of families where there is domestic abuse. Whilst a parent may have protection in court, there is still a presumption that children should have contact with the perpetrator of the domestic abuse which has, in some cases, lead to tragic consequences.
Domestic abuse in figures
Year ending March 2018
2 million people aged 16-59 told the Crime Survey for England and Wales they had been a victim of domestic abuse
1.3m Female victims; 695,000 male
38 Arrests for every 100 recorded crimes
89,091 cases resulted in prosecution
12% Proportion of prosecutions that fail after a victim changes their mind about giving evidence against their abuser
Source: Office for National Statistics
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This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.