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19 September 2019

PM says domestic abuse bill will return to Parliament

3 mins

Latest police figures have revealed that the number of domestic-violence-related deaths is at a five-year high, the BBC has reported. The data comes as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, confirmed the Domestic Abuse Bill will be re-introduced to Parliament in the next session, saying the government is ‘fully committed’ to tackling domestic abuse. Nina Pantzaris, solicitor at Bindmans, explains the importance of the bill being re-introduced to Parlimant and the impact it could have on resolving cases around domestic violence.

In 2018, 173 people were killed in domestic violence-related homicides—up 18.5% from 2017—according to data obtained by the BBC from 43 police forces across the UK. This is the highest number recorded for five years.

Will the draft domestic abuse bill become law?

The domestic abuse bill is among a collection of draft legislation which was dropped as a result of the extended prorogation of Parliament. It proposes to:

  • establish a legal definition of domestic abuse
  • provide for a new Domestic Abuse Protection Notice and Domestic Abuse Protection Order
  • prohibit perpetrators of domestic and other forms of abuse from cross-examining their victims in person in the family courts (and prevent victims from having to cross-examine their abusers) and give the court discretion to prevent cross-examination in person where it would diminish the quality of the witness’s evidence or cause the witness significant distress

As the bill has thus far taken two years to pass through Parliament, it was a source of concern to anti-abuse organisations that it had been dropped, especially in light of figures like those above which show the problem remains a significant one.

Indeed, Pantzaris says the bill was ‘stopped in its tracks’ by the suspension of Parliament, which is disappointing because ‘[t]he legal definition of domestic abuse is a long awaited and essential reform which is now on hold although the government has committed to introduce it in the next parliament’.

This is an issue in the bid to increase awareness of what constitute domestic abuse, as Pantzaris draws attention to the fact that the new Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Order replace existing Domestic Violence Protection Orders where ‘violence’ was required as a pre-condition. The new orders include ‘abuse’, which is a more inclusive term.

As to how the bill proposes to change cross-examination procedure, Pantzaris explains:

In relation to cross examination of victims in court this provision related only to cross examination in person of the victim. It can still take place where the other party has a lawyer. It provided an automatic ban of cross examination of the victim in person where one party has been convicted or given a caution or charged with certain offences against the other party or where one party has an on notice injunction in place against the other. Where these circumstances to do exist the court still has the power to prohibit the cross examination in person in certain circumstances.

PM says the bill will return to Parliament The PM, however, has spoken out to reassure those who are concerned that the bill will indeed be reintroduced to Parliament for debate upon their return after prorogation.

This article was first published on LexisNexis.

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