On the 31 May, the Government published a consultation in preparation for the new Domestic Abuse Bill, which was proposed in the Queen’s Speech last year. The consultation opened on the 8 March 2018 and sought views on reforming the Government’s response to domestic abuse. It hoped to open a productive national dialogue regarding domestic violence, specifically on raising awareness, supporting victims, and prevention. The Law Society published its response on the 1 June 2018 and highlights its reservations and concerns at the proposals for the Bill.

There is currently no statutory definition for domestic abuse, and the consultation proposes the following to be included within the Bill:

Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexual orientation. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to:

  • psychological
  • physical
  • sexual
  • economic
  • emotional

Controlling behaviour

Controlling behaviour is a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.

Coercive behaviour

Coercive behaviour is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.

The definition’s reference to ‘economic’ abuse rather than just ‘financial’ abuse aims to encapsulate non-monetary restrictions, such as food or clothing. However, the Law Society viewed a specific reference to financial abuse as necessary and recommended the definition provided in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.

The consultation goes on to recommend the creation of a new Domestic Abuse Protection Order, which aims to provide better legal support to victims. While victims of domestic abuse can currently apply to the court for orders such as non-molestation and/or occupation orders, there is no holistic order that can apply in a variety of circumstances. It is hoped that a new Domestic Abuse Protection Order would provide the justice system with greater flexibility in terms of the possible conditions attached to the order. A breach of this order would result in a criminal offence and this was supported by the Law Society. The consultation further suggests that a relevant third party (such as a family member) could also apply for this order on behalf of the victim. However, the Law Society raised concern and questioned the efficacy of an order that lacked support from the victim it has been put in place to protect.

The Law Society criticises the consultation for not proposing a ban to alleged perpetrators, who act as litigants in person, cross-examining survivors during family proceedings. Survivors undergoing cross examination by their alleged perpetrator renders the case vulnerable to prejudice and is in itself abusive*. Cross examination by perpetrators is yet to be legislated on despite receiving support from the Law Society and women’s rights groups.

Responses to the consultation are to be considered when the Bill passes through Parliament.

Laura Marshall (Paralegal)

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*Sir James Munby, 20 March 2018, “Changing families: family law yesterday, today and tomorrow – a view from south of the Border “, Law School at the University of Edinburgh. Available here: https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/speech-pfd-changing-families-edinburgh.pdf

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