After a promise made nearly two years ago the Government have at long last indicated that they intend to introduce draft laws extending the definition of domestic abuse and also extending the powers that the Courts will have to deal with it. It is a shame that it has taken two years for this to come to fruition, but the Government has been rather busy with other things – and there is a concern that this is a draft bill that might disappear because of the upheaval of Brexit. However, the drafts that have been recently published are an interesting insight into how the Government is thinking.
Domestic Abuse affects people of both sexes. There are an estimated 2 million victims, 1.3 million of which are female and about 700,000 of which are men, a proportional split that may surprise many. People traditionally regard domestic abuse as physical, intimidation and threats and violence. But it is much more than that. I often see cases where partners have no control over their finances or have been psychologically intimidated by their spouses. Sometimes the victims are not even aware of what they have suffered or the control that they are subject to, and it is only after they leave the relationship that they have a better and clearer picture of what has gone on. It can take years to recover from such a toxic relationship. Most victims will require counselling. Locally organisations such as IDAS provide valuable support. IDAS is the largest specialist charity in Yorkshire supporting anyone experiencing or affected by domestic abuse or sexual violence and more details can be found at idas.org.uk.
Extend the definition of domestic abuse
The Government intends to extend the definition of domestic abuse to include non-physical and economic abuse. I think this is crucially important as economic abuse on its own can leave somebody as psychologically crippled as physical abuse can. It can lead to isolation and feelings of helplessness. Indeed, I recently saw a potential client who literally had no access to any money of her own, had come from a foreign country and was therefore completely dependant upon her husband for everything. She was deeply unhappy but felt completely trapped in the relationship as she could see no way of getting out. There is a path for her but that is another story.
The Government also intends to introduce powers to force perpetrators of domestic abuse to go on therapeutic courses. These will be designed to give people an insight into the impact of their behaviour and, hopefully to change the way they approach relationships and partners in the future. Victims will also be eligible for special protection in criminal cases and perpetrators will no longer be able to cross-examine their victims in Court. Up to now that has been possible if the perpetrator has represented themselves. The Government also intends to appoint a Domestic Abuse Commissioner whose role will be to monitor the legislation on domestic abuse and ensure that its profile is kept high and appropriate measures are implemented where necessary.
In my view this is a very necessary reform and it is very important that the Government does somehow find time to push this legislation through. We can only cross our fingers and hope.
Stephen Root is a top ranked Yorkshire family lawyer with over 30 years’ experience in supported separating couples. To discuss how with Stephen and Berwins' expert Family Law team can support you, call 01423 543 108 or use our contact form online.