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Domestic Abuse

Volume 653: debated on Monday 21 January 2019

My right hon. Friends, the Prime Minister and Justice Secretary and I are today publishing the consultation response on transforming the response to domestic abuse and draft Domestic Abuse Bill following the public consultation last year.

Domestic abuse destroys lives. It is a cruel and complex crime that can affect anyone, leaving physical and emotional scars that can last a lifetime. It also places a considerable demand on public services—Home Office research published today estimates the economic and social costs of domestic abuse to society to be £66 billion each year. This consultation response and draft Bill further our ambition to transform the response to domestic abuse and change social attitudes that keep these crimes hidden in plain sight.

On 8 March 2018, the then Home Secretary issued a written ministerial statement (HCWS525) announcing a comprehensive public consultation to address domestic abuse from prevention through to rehabilitation. The consultation ran for 12 weeks and received around 3,200 responses. In addition to questionnaires, we ran a series of national roadshows and themed roundtables with victims and other stakeholders. The Government are grateful to the victims, frontline practitioners and others who took the time to respond to the consultation and supported the events. These responses have helped us to refine and improve our proposals.

To reflect the prevalence and complexity of domestic abuse and the harm it causes, the consultation response is truly a cross-Government effort. It recognises that change needs to occur across all statutory agencies, including in courts, police, schools, social care, housing, welfare and healthcare settings.

For those measures which require legislation to implement, the Government have today published the Domestic Abuse Bill in draft for pre-legislative scrutiny. A joint committee of both Houses will be established as soon as practicable to undertake such scrutiny. Once the joint committee has reported, the Government are committed to introducing the Domestic Abuse Bill as soon as parliamentary time allows.

The draft Bill includes the following measures:

a) Introduce the first ever statutory Government definition of domestic abuse (which will include economic abuse);

b) Establish the office of Domestic Abuse Commissioner and set out the Commissioner’s functions and powers (the competition for the appointment of the Designate Domestic Abuse Commissioner was launched on 4 December 2018);

c) Provide for a new Domestic Abuse Protection Notice and Domestic Abuse Protection Order;

d) Prohibit perpetrators of abuse from cross-examining their victims in person in the family courts and give the court discretion to prevent cross-examination in person where it would diminish the quality of the witness’ evidence or cause the witness significant distress;

e) Create a statutory presumption that complainants of an offence involving behaviour which amounts to domestic abuse are eligible for special measures in the criminal courts;

f) Enable domestic abuse offenders to be subject to polygraph testing as a condition of their licence following their release from custody;

g) Place the guidance supporting the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme on a statutory footing;

h) Ensure that where a local authority, for reasons connected with domestic abuse, grants a new secure tenancy to a social tenant who had or has a secure lifetime or assured tenancy (other than an assured shorthold tenancy) this must be a secure lifetime tenancy; and

i) Support ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the “Istanbul Convention”), by extending the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the criminal courts in England and Wales to further violent and sexual offences.

Ahead of the legislation we have already started to implement measures to improve support for victims and their children. We have launched applications for the designate Domestic Abuse Commissioner role; we have announced successful bids to the children affected by domestic abuse fund with nine projects across the country being funded; and 12 projects have been awarded funding to support female offenders who have experienced domestic abuse.

The Government remain resolute in their determination to fundamentally change the response to this insidious crime through delivering the cross-Government commitments set out in today’s Command Paper. It demonstrates a clear focus on prevention and sets out new measures to: raise awareness; better support victims and their children; ensure perpetrators are pursued and prosecuted; and drive consistently high performance in the response to domestic abuse across all local areas, agencies and sectors.

A copy of the Command Paper (CP 15), including the consultation response, the draft Domestic Abuse Bill and explanatory notes, will today be laid before the House and will be available online at Copies of the Paper on the economic and social costs of domestic abuse; draft Domestic Abuse Bill impact assessment; delegated powers memorandum; and ECHR memorandum will be placed in the House Library.