new uk domestic abuse laws

Getting Help for Domestic Abuse in the UK is Like Playing the Lottery

Did you know that the Crown Protection Services (CPS) records show that the charging rates for domestic abuse has lowered for the third year in the row? Is that good news?

No, it means that the number of cases actually prosecuted has fallen while domestic abuse cases recorded by the police are at record high volumes.

Article by HH solicitors in north shields.

Domestic Abuse Commissioner Nicole Jacobs remarked:

“While I am encouraged that more domestic abuse is being recorded by the police, I am increasingly concerned that the CPS charging rate has fallen for the third consecutive year.

Not only are cases less likely to be charged, but the time taken to charge has quadrupled from 4 days in 2014 to 18 days between 2020 to 2021. This is shocking.

Delays mean that domestic abuse victims are not getting the action or protection that they so desperately need. This not only adds to their distress but can lead to fewer victims coming forwards in the first place.”

Mechanism to monitor experiences of domestic abuse victims

Every year around 2.3m people experience domestic abuse. On average two women are killed every week in by a current or former partner. COVID-19 restrictions and stresses have intensified the dangers. Commissioner Jacobs likened domestic abuse response to the postcode lottery – in which in exchange for a minimal subscription per month, draws are made in which all subscribers who share the same postcode share the prize – as a “shocking” failing.

The efficacy of domestic abuse service providers is not only dependent on what services are offered, to whom, and where those services are located, but also fails in that there is a glaring nationwide ignorance about where victims are not receiving the support they need. Improvements cannot be made without awareness, nor victims be directed to get the support they need.

According to a 2016 report from Imkaan (the UK-based umbrella women’s organization addressing violence against black and minoritised women and girls) in the space of a year, 50% of Black and minoritised women’s specialist refuges were forced to close or were taken over by a larger provider due to lack of funding over the last decade, while other refuges are able to continue to operate without any local government support.

Even something as simple as mapping domestic abuse services in an area and their conditions for operation will help the commission. Domestic abuse victims are called to recall their experiences interacting with domestic abuse support providers. Improvements and support can therefore be given to the areas that need them the most, and where providers are able to operate without government support their personnel may grant insight into how to enable others to do the same.

Ms Jacobs said:

“Our ambition now is it to create the most far reaching and geographically comprehensive survey for domestic abuse victims and survivors.”

“Armed with this information, I will use my legal powers through the Domestic Abuse Act to press national and local Government to end the postcode lottery once and for all,” she added.

But comprehensive surveys are only the first step in improving the system. What is being done to help victims today?

Real Solutions in the Short Term

  1. These measures are under way or will take effect in the near future.
  2. Tougher penalties for child cruelty
  3. Domestic abuse and sexual offenses to be treated as seriously as knife crime
  4. Reaffirmation of the proper time for advocate meetings
  5. Domestic Abusers must leave their homes

The government is to deliver Tony’s Law

The Ministry of Justice confirmed plans to increase the maximum penalties for a range of offenses.

Tony’s Law is derived from the case of Tony Hudgell, who was abused so badly by his parents that to save his life his legs had to be amputated from below the knee. His birth parents were sentenced to a maximum jail term of ten years.

Tony’s Law will increase the maximum penalties for causing or allowing serious physical harm or death to a child.

In effect:

  • for causing or allowing the death of a child or vulnerable adult increases from 14 years’ imprisonment to life imprisonment
  • for causing or allowing serious physical harm to a child or vulnerable adult from 10 increases to 14 years’ imprisonment
    for cruelty to a person under 16 from 10 increases to 14 years’ imprisonment
  • Cruelty is a special form of abuse in which there is an intentional or criminally negligent act to cause pain, physical or mental distress to a vulnerable person. This already falls under the umbrella of domestic abuse, but it is an aggravating circumstance to a crime.

Domestic abuse and sexual offenses to be treated as seriously as serious violence and homicide

This is the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that is now in the report stage in the House of Lords. Public bodies would have a new legal duty to work together to tackle serious violence, which can include domestic abuse and sexual offences. This duty obliges police, government, and health bodies to collaborate locally to develop a more holistic strategy to protect people from harm.

This gives powers to two or more specified authorities to collaborate with each other to prevent and reduce serious violence in a relevant area.

In particular, the specified authorities may—
(a) identify the kinds of serious violence that occur in a relevant area,
(b) identify the causes of serious violence in the area, and
(c) prepare and implement a strategy for exercising their functions to prevent and reduce serious violence in the area.

It is no longer that authorities cooperate because it would be easier to carry out their duties – it is a mandatory for the local government area to plan together to exercise their functions to prevent and reduce serious violence in an area, etc.

In preparing a strategy under this section for a local government area, the specified authorities for the area must ensure that the following are consulted—
(a) each educational authority for the area;
(b) each prison authority for the area;
(c) each youth custody authority for the area.

A strategy under this section for a local government area may specify an action to be carried out by—
(a) an educational authority for the area,
(b) a prison authority for the area, or
(c) a youth custody authority for the area.

What constitutes serious violence? A lot of the traditional concepts for violent crime. This now includes domestic abuse and violence – sexual or otherwise – against children, people with disabilities, and basically anyone being physically abused by someone in a position of trust.

The new Bill however, by being a duty to local authorities over their geographical area, calls back to the DA Commissioner’s remarks about support being like playing the postcode lottery.

A reminder about the timely rules for advocate meetings

Advocates need to communicate with each other and deliver issues to place before the court. Without their position statements, the hearing is bereft of a reason to happen. Even when statements are submitted in a hurry, they are left with little time to prepare and a hearing may become inconclusive leading to further appearances before the court.

This sounds too simplistic, but it ties up the courts. Litigants and the government waste their time and money. People at risk suffer even more delays.

HHJ Lynn Roberts, Designated Family Judge for Central Family Court, issued the following message:

We are increasingly having to vacate hearings at CFC because of the absence or very late submission of position statements. On many occasions recently it has become obvious that the reason for this is that the advocates’ meeting has taken place after court on the eve of the hearing.

Can I remind everyone of recommendation 26 in Mr Justice Keehan’s Public Law Working Group report:

“Recommendation 26: Advocates’ meetings: using an agenda and providing a summary. Advocates’ meeting should take place no less than two working days before a listed hearing. Advocates should agree at the meetings the core reading list, the schedule of issues and list of agreed matters. One sheet of A4 containing those matters should be produced following each advocates’ meeting for the judge, and be provided to the judge by 4pm the working day before the hearing.”

Therefore, the courts are now stricter that:

  • Advocates’ meetings must take place no later than two working days before the hearing.
  • Position Statements must be received by the court no later than 4 pm on the eve of the hearing.

Failure to meet these requirements may incur wasted costs and/or cases may be delayed.

Remember what Ms. Jacobs said “Not only are cases less likely to be charged, but the time taken to charge has quadrupled from 4 days in 2014 to 18 days between 2020 to 2021.”

It is not only the sheer number of cases that need to be processed that cause slowdowns, but time management failures by family law attorneys and counsels. Thus even with the severe caseload it is proven that simple failure to follow procedure makes things harder for everybody.

Domestic abusers will be made to leave their family homes

Here’s a reversal on how domestic abuse victims are helped. Usually victims of abuse are advised to leave and take refuge in shelters that specialize in their plight. Several local authorities in England have taken initiatives to set up housing for domestic abuse perpetrators to enable their victims to remain in their family homes.

According to the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance “without the option to remove and rehouse a perpetrator, victims, including children, will continue to suffer by remaining trapped in abusive relationships or being forced to flee their home”.

Abusers who hold economic power in the relationship can entrap their victims with the choice of enduring or leaving their homes to uncertainty and rough sleeping. This is particularly hard for women and children, building on cases in which the police and judges have been reluctant to issue domestic protection notices in the case they made the perpetrator or victims homeless. There are pilot schemes in North Yorkshire, London, Dorset, and other places.

Women’s Aid is sceptical of such initiatives however, because even as women and children may be turned away from refuges due to lack of capacity and funding, a refuge provides holistic support to domestic abuse sufferers, not just in housing and financial support so that children may continue to go to school – but also in community therapy and legal advice.

While being able to remain in their homes may be more comfortable and easier, it is not as safe. Domestic abuse perpetrators may easily come back and do them harm. A reminder that according to the Office of National Statistics, on average 2 women are murdered every week due to domestic violence.

Now before some bright little gremlin begins to think “wait, what if I start to behave like a total shite until my partner blows up at me and then I hook them for domestic abuse and get the flat to myself” you would be the domestic abuser in that situation.