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LEGAL COMMENT: New legislation to bring overdue protections for domestic abuse victims

Matthew Taylor takes a look at the proposals in this week's draft Domestic Abuse Bill

A ban on alleged domestic abusers cross-examining their victims, the first statutory definition of “domestic abuse” and a formalising of ‘Clare’s law’ are among the welcome provisions of the draft Domestic Abuse Bill published by the government this week. Matthew Taylor, solicitor in Weightmans’ family team, takes a look at the proposals:

“Overall, there is a lot to like in the draft Bill. Family law professionals and judges alike have long called for the government to take action to prevent alleged domestic abusers cross-examining their victims in family proceedings. While this has been banned in criminal proceedings for some time, the family court currently lacks the power to appoint a legal representative at public expense to conduct the cross-examination.
“This legislation would address this failing of the system and prevent the unconscionable act of an alleged abuser questioning their victim, while ensuring that anyone accused of committing abuse retains the right to a fair trial.
“The statutory definition of “domestic abuse” is to be welcomed and makes it abundantly clear that abuse is not solely physical, but includes sexual, emotional, psychological and economic abuse, between people who are in a relationship, have a child together, were formerly married or are related to each other.
“Of particular importance is the clarity as to what constitutes economic abuse, with the draft bill providing that this should be defined as behaviour that has a substantial adverse effect on someone’s ability to acquire or use money, or obtain goods or services. This will cover situations where a victim has no control over money and requires permission from their abuser before they can purchase anything; a situation that is sadly all-too-familiar to family solicitors.
“Clare’s Law – named after Clare Wood who was murdered by an ex-boyfriend who had a history of violence against women – allows a person to check with police if they are concerned that a partner, or a partner of someone they know, might have a record of violence, or pose a risk. Last year saw the police make more than 5,500 disclosures on the scheme, with requests increasing year-on-year and so it is right that this process is given a formal statutory status.
“Other eye-catching provisions include the creation of Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders to further protect victims and place restrictions on the actions of offenders, lie detector tests for domestic abuse offenders released on licence and the establishment of Domestic Abuse Commissioner with responsibility for domestic abuse issues.
“As a draft bill, there is clearly a long way to go before any legislation is enacted. It remains to be seen whether any significant amendments are made to the draft bill and also whether sufficient funds are allocated to make a success of the new proposals. Given parliament’s focus on Brexit at present, it is hoped that progress is not waylaid and that the 2 million adults who experience domestic abuse each year are given the enhanced protection that they sorely need.”
If you have any questions or would like to know more about our update, please contact Matthew Taylor in Weightmans' Family law team.

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