Being a victim of domestic abuse is a terrifying and upsetting experience. It’s also far more common than you’d think, with 2 million people reporting that they’d been victims of domestic abuse in 2018 alone. While there are laws designed to protect you, many have called on the government to improve legislation and further protect victims from their abusers.
In January 2019, new draft laws have been widely discussed in the headlines and are due to be reviewed by MPs. These laws introduce new protections for victims and new categories for behaviour that can be ruled as domestic abuse. As solicitors specialising in helping victims of domestic abuse, we’re here to help you understand what these new draft laws mean to victims.
New definitions mean new protections
The new bill proposes the first ever statutory government definition of domestic abuse, which would include economic abuse (such as controlling access to money) and non-physical abusive behaviour (such as hiding and/ or checking your mobile phone and controlling who you can and cannot contact – thereby decreasing your circle of people that you can reach out to). This redefining of domestic violence is meant to make it easier for victims of non-physical abuse to feel comfortable reporting their crime, knowing that it’s now a defined and recognised form of abuse.
This definition also makes it easier if you suspect you’re a victim of abuse but you’re unsure of exactly what constitutes a crime. If you’re unsure, you can also contact our family law solicitors who will be happy to assist you.
You won’t have to face cross-examination
One of the most upsetting parts of facing your abuser in court is that sometimes, you may have tobe cross examined by them, if they are representing themselves without solicitor. . The new draft bill would ban this practice which can sometimes amount to a continuation of the abuse. This should go some way towards helping victims of domestic violence feel more comfortable in seeing their cases through the family court.
Perpetrators may face a polygraph test
Under this new draft bill, high-risk abusers who are existing abusers may be subjected to a polygraph test (known as a lie detector test) once they are released from prison. Lie detector test results will not be used as evidence of guilt in a court case but can result in precautionary measures being put into place designed to lessen the chance of reoffending. It’s aimed at breaking the cycle of violence with perpetrators.
The courts will have more power to deal with your abuser
In addition to custodial sentencing, this draft bill suggests perpetrators will be sent to rehabilitation programmes that can help cut the chance of repeat offences and lower the risk to other victims. The courts will have more powers such as to make new protection orders to deter offenders and protect victims.
In 2009, 36-year-old Clare Wood was killed by her partner, George Appleton. Following her death, Clare’s family was shocked to discover that he had a history of violence against women – which Clare knew nothing about. As a result, they campaigned for ‘Clare’s Law’ . The scheme offered people the chance to check with the police whether their partner, or a partner of someone they know, had a criminal record of violence. However, it has always been at the individual police force’s discretion whether they release this information or not. The new draft bill places Clare’s Law onto a statutory footing, meaning everyone will have a legal right to check out the offending history of a potential partner when it comes to domestic abuse.
You may get better housing opportunities
If you’ve been granted a secure lifetime tenancy or assured tenancy (excluding assured shorthold tenancies) by the local authority because of domestic abuse, they must provide you with a secure lifetime tenancy.
In addition to these key measures, the draft bill will also extend the territorial jurisdiction of criminal courts to tackle violence and domestic abuse in England and Wales. All of these measures will hopefully reduce the estimated £66 billion of costs associated with domestic violence, but also make the country a safer place for victims. One thing is certain: it will help victims who attend court by preventing cross-examination and will increase the legal powers of the court to actually deal with the abuser.
While this bill is still a draft, if you’re a victim of domestic abuse you can act now. Don’t be afraid to seek help – our family law team can offer confidential advice and even emergency support. Get in touch today if you’re curious about this new bill or if you’re suffering domestic abuse.