The Government have today laid before Parliament and published the third annual report on the United Kingdom’s progress toward the ratification of the Council of Europe convention on combating violence against women and domestic violence, the “Istanbul convention”. The UK signed the Istanbul convention in 2012 to signal the UK’s strong commitment to tackling violence against women and girls (VAWG) and this Government remain committed to ratifying it.
The report sets out the steps taken by the UK Government and the devolved Administrations toward ratification of the convention and the work that has been undertaken since the 2018 report on progress.
This year, we have continued to strengthen our efforts to combat VAWG. We have published a refreshed cross-Government VAWG strategy to ensure that we are doing all that we can to tackle crimes which affect disproportionately women and girls. The refresh captures new programmes of work and sets out 54 new actions the Government have committed to take to drive forward this agenda, including the establishment of an end-to-end review into the criminal justice response to rape.
In most respects, the UK already complies with or goes further than the convention requires. Since signing the convention in 2012, we have significantly strengthened our laws and introduced a range of new tools and measures to protect victims. But we know that there is more to do. That is why in July this year we introduced a landmark Domestic Abuse Bill 2019 in Parliament, which followed a public consultation that attracted more than 3,200 responses. The Bill set out a package of measures to transform our response to domestic abuse.
The Domestic Abuse Bill 2019 included the necessary legislative measures to ensure that the criminal law in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland satisfied the requirements of Article 44 of the convention in respect of extra-territorial jurisdiction; the provisions in respect of Scotland and Northern Ireland were included at the request of the Scottish Government and Department of Justice. In addition, and again following a request earlier this year from the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland, the Bill also included a new domestic abuse offence for Northern Ireland which would enable Northern Ireland to be fully compliant with Article 33, psychological violence. After the report went to print yesterday the Early Parliamentary General Election Bill completed its passage through Parliament, which means that the Domestic Abuse Bill will not continue in this Parliament. It remains the case that the drawing up of the legislation represents an important milestone in our progress towards compliance with Articles 44 and in Northern Ireland 33. The Government remain fully committed to ratifying the convention and to taking the measures necessary to enable us to do so.
The issue of support for migrant victims of domestic abuse was raised by the Joint Committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill in its report published in June this year. In response, the Government have committed to reviewing the overall response to migrant victims of domestic abuse, including by specifically considering the Committee’s recommendation to extend the period of time that support is offered for and how this relates to a victim's ability to access refuge accommodation. As part of this review, we will also take into account any obligations we have under the Istanbul convention. We have therefore recorded Articles 4(3)—to the extent that it relates to migrant and refugee status—and 59 as “under review” in the report this year to reflect that we are currently considering the Committee’s concerns in greater detail.
The publication of this report fulfils the requirement of section 2 of the Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Ratification of Convention) Act 2017.1 will lay before Parliament the report required by section 1 of that Act when our timescale for ratification is clear.
Copies of the report will be available in the Vote Office and it will be published on the Government’s website at gov.uk.