The Government have today laid before Parliament and published the fourth 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, signalling our strong commitment to tackling violence against women and girls (VAWG) and this Government remain committed to ratifying it as soon as we possibly can. The report sets out the work undertaken by the UK Government and the devolved Administrations to tackle VAWG since the 2019 report on progress, as well as the remaining steps required as we progress towards ratification.
Our measures to protect women and girls from violence are already some of the most robust in the world, and in most respects we comply with, or go further than, the convention requires.
Since signing the convention in 2012, we have significantly strengthened our legislative framework, introduced a range of new protective tools, and issued new guidance for professionals to better protect victims.
This year, the covid-19 pandemic has placed those at risk of violence against women and girls in an even more vulnerable situation. In response to this, the Government announced enhanced support for victims, including £76 million of funding to ensure that victims and survivors of domestic abuse, sexual violence and modern slavery, as well as vulnerable children and their families, receive the support they need during the pandemic.
On 3 March 2020 we reintroduced the landmark Domestic Abuse Bill in Parliament, which includes a package of measures to transform our response to domestic abuse. The Bill was passed by the House of Commons in July and has now moved to the House of Lords. The Bill, together with the Domestic Abuse and Family Proceedings Bill currently before the Northern Ireland Assembly, includes the necessary legislative measures to ensure all parts of the UK are compliant with article 44 of the convention, which requires that criminal courts in the UK have extraterritorial jurisdiction over certain violent and sexual offences.
The Northern Ireland Executive had not been restored at the time of the last progress report, so the Domestic Abuse Bill as originally introduced in July 2019 contained a provision for a new domestic abuse offence which would criminalise psychological violence in Northern Ireland, as required by article 33 of the convention. Following the restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland, provision for this new offence was omitted from the re-introduced Westminster Bill and placed in the Domestic Abuse and Family Proceedings Bill, which was introduced into the Northern Ireland Assembly on 31 March 2020. As this is a devolved matter, the timetable for the Domestic Abuse and Family Proceedings Bill is for the Assembly to set. Nevertheless, I know that Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive share my desire for ratification of the convention to proceed as swiftly as possible and that they will do all that they can to enable swift implementation of the new offence once the Domestic Abuse and Family Proceedings Bill is enacted.
The issue of support for migrant victims of domestic abuse was raised by the Joint Committee on the draft Domestic Abuse Bill, and we committed to undertake a review of the Government’s overall response to migrant victims of domestic abuse. This review has been completed, and the findings were published on gov.uk on 3 July 2020. More detailed evidence is needed to demonstrate which cohorts of migrant victims are likely to be most in need of support, the numbers involved and how well existing arrangements may address their needs.
In response to the review, the Government therefore committed to launch a £1.5 million support for migrant victims (SMV) pilot scheme to address these evidence gaps, which will then enable us to take well-grounded and evidence-based decisions on how best to protect these victims in the long term. Details of the pilot scheme were published on 19 October. We have therefore recorded articles 4(3) (to the extent that it relates to non-discrimination on the grounds of migrant or refugee status) and 59 as “under review” this year, pending the evaluation and findings of the SMV scheme.
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. I will lay before Parliament the report required by section 1 of that Act when our timescale for ratification is clear.
Copies of the 2020 progress report will be available in the Vote Office and it will be published on the Government’s website at gov.uk.