Bill Passed By Parliament This Week ‘Gives More Joined-Up Approach’
A new Bill giving domestic abuse victims greater defences has been passed by the House of Commons this week, making it easier for victims of abuse to get protection.
The Bill introduces Domestic Abuse Protection Notices (DAPNs) which the police can issue on the spot to protect someone who is at risk from domestic abuse, and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders (DAPOs). If the Police issue a DAPN, the matter is brought before a court in the space of 2-3 days to decide whether a DAPO should be made.
A DAPO is a protective order which can exclude someone from a property or prohibit them from contacting the other person. In some cases, monitoring can take place by electronic tagging. The orders can be applied for by the police or by the person who is seeking protection from abuse. These provisions replace the existing Domestic Violence Protection Orders, which have had only limited effect.
“Clare’s Law”, which enables a member of the public to make enquiries of the police about the record of an individual who they are concerned might be abusive, is also built into the new law.
Family Law experts at Irwin Mitchell say the Bill is potentially a welcome move in order to make it easier and faster for domestic abuse victims to get the protection they need.
Expert Opinion“The Domestic Abuse Bill which has been approved by Parliament this week provides an opportunity to create a more joined-up approach when it comes to protecting victims.
“Even though a victim may not feel able to apply for an order, someone else can do so on their behalf. It’s hoped this will mean more vulnerable people who struggle to protect themselves will get protection from domestic abuse.
“Time will tell whether the police and courts will use DAPOs in a proactive and consistent way; such an approach has been lacking with DVPOs. If they do not, there is a real risk that this legislation will prove to be a missed opportunity.
“Overall, these are very welcome changes giving greater defences from domestic abuse and a more cohesive system across the criminal and family courts. We hope the police will embrace the use of the new notices and orders and we certainly envisage using them to provide more robust protection for our clients when it is needed.” Toby Hales - Partner
The Bill introduces a number of other positive developments. Special measures for witnesses giving evidence in court will be provided automatically, such as screens or a video link. It also won’t be possible for an alleged perpetrator who is representing themselves in court to directly cross-examine their alleged victim; instead the court will be able to appoint a legal representative to do this for them.
These measures are to be extended to the Family Court as well, which is to be welcomed as a recent report has identified systemic failings in the family justice system to understand the impact of abuse and trauma.
Toby added: “The Bill is very timely given the increased calls domestic abuse charities have received under lockdown, prompting us to launch our own hotline to help with the situation.
“People have really appreciated that they could reach out and get initial advice and guidance for free – it’s all about having options and support. As victims of abuse feel so trapped, we were able to open a window for them.
“We also found that there was a huge amount of confusion over the process to go through in the courts from many phoning in, so the new legislation in the Bill should hopefully make this an easier process for all.”
Under the current law someone seeking protection from domestic abuse can look to the criminal justice system and alternatively, or in addition, seek a civil injunction.
Separately, the family courts can make protective orders restraining the behaviour of a perpetrator or regulating access to a property – if necessary excluding someone from the family home. Although in some cases the police can arrest someone who breaches an order made by the family court, the two systems work differently and separately.
The Domestic Abuse Bill sets out a statutory definition of domestic abuse which makes it clear that this is not just physical, but it can be coercive and controlling behaviour, emotional abuse and also economic abuse.