New DA laws planned, but when will it actually happen?!?!?

New DA laws planned, but when will it actually happen?!?!?

Being a former journalist, call me cynical but you do get a little blasé when governments announce new laws or new money for projects. Sometimes, the cynicism is justified as quite often it might not be new money or new ideas it could be just a simple “repackaging” or “re-announcing”.

But this week the Government has announced something other than the latest update on the B-word, it announced plans for an overhaul of the domestic abuse laws.

The problem being …. it’s a draft bill and it doesn’t look like there will be any parliamentary time put aside to getting it through the House of Commons to become law. Therefore in layman’s terms it’s just a plan at this stage.

National Statistics:

1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime.
* Domestic abuse leads to, on average, two women being murdered each week and 30 men per year in England and Wales.
* Domestic abuse related offences have the most repeat victims than any other type of crime.
* It is estimated that domestic abuse costs the public £23 Billion per year; including costs to the criminal justice system, health, social care and housing.
* 1 in 5 women and 1 in 12 men have experienced stalking in their lifetime in the UK.
* Research suggests that at least one honour killing takes place in the UK every month (this is likely to be underestimated).
* 15% of cases responded to by the Forced Marriage Unit are for young people under 16 years.
* Government experts estimate domestic abuse cost society £66 billion in 2016/17 and it’s hoped the changes will improve the response.

That’s not to say there’s not some good stuff in the current draft bill, because first time there will be a legal definition of domestic abuse, which includes economic abuse and control. The long-awaited legislation will also ban abusers from cross-examining victims in family courts. The definition of domestic abuse will specifically recognise that it goes beyond crimes of violence and includes victims who are psychologically coerced and manipulated, as well as those who have no control of their finances.

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.

The draft bill 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
* There are also plans to ensure a breach of an order is a criminal offence.

When it comes to the new plans, we (the PCC and the OPCC) have a number of concerns. Firstly, whilst it’s to be welcomed that the Government is looking to overhaul the law, it has taken too long. That has meant victims and their children have had their lives turned upside down by having to uproot their lives, whilst those responsible have been allowed to remain invisible and often unchallenged by the system ( I’m paraphrasing someone more in the know that me!).

Secondly, if the law does come into place there may be an additional demand placed on both the Police and current domestic abuse support service in the county – GDASS. This additional demand will probably not be backed up with any additional money and that is a worry.

Help and support signpost

All of the DA provision in the county was last year recommissioned and a sudden increased influx in demand may have a major impact particularly on the support victims are able to access. Especially during the judicial process, that’s because we currently only have one court Independent Domestic Violence Adviser (IDVA) for the whole county.

Another consideration would be the demand on trial time as the courts already allocate specific court slots for DA cases and whether they would be able to give any additional time for high priority cases without impacting on the current DA cases is not known.

Thankfully in our county there is lots of partnership work going on across agencies and the voluntary sector. Our focus is on early help and support. It’s estimated in Gloucestershire over 13 thousand women and over 7 thousand men have been victims of domestic abuse (2017 figures), for those victims and their families the sooner politicians in Westminster make time for this issue the better.

Click here for a list of the support available to victims of crime in Gloucestershire.

Martin Surl