The Government have today laid before Parliament and published the fifth 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. The report sets out the work undertaken by the UK Government and the devolved Administrations to tackle VAWG since the 2020 report on progress, as well as the last remaining barriers to 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. In July, we published our cross-Government tackling violence against women and girls strategy to help ensure that women and girls are safe everywhere—at home, at work, online and on the streets. This strategy will be followed by a complementary domestic abuse strategy later this year.
On 29 April 2021 we passed the landmark Domestic Abuse Act, which includes a package of measures to transform our response to domestic abuse. The Act 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. On 29 June 2021 these provisions automatically came into force in England and Wales, and the corresponding provisions for Scotland were brought into force on the same day. Therefore, we have recorded these parts of the UK as compliant with article 44 for the first time in this year’s report. In addition, on 1 March 2021 the Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceedings Act (Northern Ireland) 2021 became law. The Act creates a new domestic abuse offence which criminalises psychological violence in Northern Ireland, as required by article 33 of the convention, and contains provisions for extraterritorial jurisdiction for the new offence. I have received confirmation from Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive that they expect to implement this new offence and the extraterritorial jurisdiction provisions in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 by late February 2022.
The issue of support for migrant victims of domestic abuse was raised by the Joint Committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill in 2019 and we committed to undertake a review into the Government’s overall response to migrant victims of domestic abuse. On 3 July 2020 the findings from this review were published on www.gov.uk and found that a more detailed evidence base was 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. That is why the Government launched a £1.5 million support for migrant victims (SMV) pilot scheme to address these evidence gaps, which will then enable us to take evidence-based decisions on how best to protect these victims in the long term. The scheme launched in April and is intended to run until 31 March 2022. We have therefore continued to record 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 from 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 report will be published on the Government’s website at: www.gov.uk.