updated on 06 May 2020
Following the Domestic Abuse Bill’s second reading in the House of Commons last week, the Law Society says the bill must do more to protect victims. It recently passed a significant stage in its path to becoming law and will now be examined by the public bill committee.
While the proposed legislation protects victims to a certain extent by expanding the definition of domestic abuse and banning alleged abusers from cross-examining victims in courts, the Law Society urges the bill to do more, calling for a ban on alleged abusers cross-examining certain other witnesses as well – for example, children.
Law Society President Simon Davis said: “Now more than ever, victims need protecting. As the bill finally progresses through parliament, the government must put the necessary funding into legal aid, refuges and vital frontline services – giving victims the support and access to justice they so deserve.”
Fiona Read, head of the family team at Russell-Cooke said that the bill is likely to lead to more trails in domestic abuse cases and “ as the definition is tested and findings of fact are established, what constitutes a perpetrator of domestic abuse will need to be carefully assessed”.
Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland recently told the Commons that in just one week his local refuge saw an 80% increase in referrals, while calls to the local helpline also rose by nearly 30%, as victims of domestic abuse are forced to shelter in places, often in close proximity to the abuser, due to the covid-19 pandemic.
He said: “The phrase ‘stay at home’, which we so associate with the directions to deal with covid-19, should be words of reassurance and comfort. The home should be a place of safety, both physical and mental. The concept of the home as a refuge is such a strong one, yet for too many people it is not a refuge. At this time of lockdown, that fear, distress and suffering is multiplied. I assure all victims that help is available. The police continue to respond to incidents of domestic abuse, and anyone in immediate danger should not hesitate to call 999 and the emergency services. Where necessary, the existing civil order framework can be used to remove a perpetrator from the family home in order to protect victims of abuse.”
Details on how the government will pilot domestic abuse courts, which received £5 million from the Treasury, will soon be revealed, Buckland said.