DOMESTIC VIOLENCE BILL 2014 - EXPLANATORY NOTES

INTRODUCTION

The purpose of the Bill is to introduce a statutory framework around domestic violence. Currently there is no specific law. The absence of a law defining a course of abusive behaviour is a contributory factor to low reporting, arrests, charging and conviction rates.

The government recently redefined domestic violence, in March 2013, as “any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender and sexuality”.

THE BILL

This Bill places a legal framework around that definition of domestic violence, whether that abuse is physical or psychological. It would mean that behaviour amounting to domestic violence would be taken into account by the police, prosecutors, the court and probation, not just the single most recent incident. The conduct or behaviour usually involves the exercise of coercive control, which can include physical, psychological or financial abuse or all three.

1.  Clause 1 – Offences in relation to Domestic Violence

 1.1   his Clause creates an offence of domestic violence if a person engages in conduct against a victim or that victim’s children and they intend to cause physical or psychological harm and the conduct is in any way coercive or controlling.

1.2   A person shall be guilty of an offence of domestic violence or the victim’s children if they were caused to fear violence or serious alarm and distress. The perpetrator must be aware that their behaviour is likely to cause fear or anxiety. On conviction in a magistrates’ court the perpetrator could face a prison sentence of up to 12 months or a fine or both. If however the matter is serious and is heard before a crown court, the person faces up to 14 years following a finding of guilt.

1.3   The Secretary of State may make regulations to a) determine whether a case should be sent to the Crown Court; b) rule that a court, local authority or other body must not disclose the current address or post code of a victim to an alleged perpetrator if it put that victim at risk of harm; c) order a convicted perpetrator to take part in an approved domestic violence programme; and d) give the court the power to issue Domestic Violence Orders under Section 28 of the Crime and Security Act 2010.

 2.  Clause 2 – No statutory time limit for prosecutions of coercive control

 There is evidence that hundreds of prosecutions are not proceeded with in current cases of assault because the evidence is deemed to be out of time.  This clause ensures that the offence of coercive control, which frequently involves a course of conduct over a long period of time, would not be subject to any such constraints.

 3. Clause 3 – Definition of Domestic Violence

 3.1  This clause defines domestic violence as a) controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour; b) physical violence, or c) any abuse that includes (but is not limited to) psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional abuse.  The clause also determines that a victim must be aged 16 or older and be (or have been) either an intimate partner or family member of the perpetrator (regardless of gender or sexuality)

3.2  This sub-clause defines “controlling behaviour” in terms of a course of conduct which is knowingly undertaken by the perpetrator.  It also defines “coercive or threatening behaviour” that knowingly causes the victim or their children to fear physical violence or experience serious alarm or distress (in a way which affects their day to day activities).

3.3 This sub-clause includes reference to the reasonable person test, i.e. that a person in possession of the same information would conclude that the individual should have known that their conduct would have an adverse effect of the victim.

 4. Clause 3 – Policies, Standards and Training

3.1  This Clause places certain responsibilities on the police and includes that:

  •  They should develop and implement domestic violence policies;
  • They should offer assistance in a situation where domestic violence has occurred and deal with it as a priority;
  • They should provide written policies that encourage the arrest and charge of the perpetrator;
  • They should take into account the intent of the law to protect victims; and that
  • It is advisable that these policies be implemented on a date to be determined by the Secretary of State, but currently no later than 1 January 2015.

 3.2     This sub-clause would ensure that police prioritise cases of domestic violence and treat them as serious offences.

 3.3     This sub-clause ensures that there is a minimum level of information and support provided to victims of domestic violence.  The sub-clause also ensures that police be properly trained in dealing with domestic violence behaviour.

 3.4  This sub-clause puts a duty on the police to consult with domestic violence experts and agencies when drawing up policies and standards.

 5.   Clause 4 – Provision of Training

  5.1  This Clause places a duty on the Secretary of State at the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice to ensure that Crown Prosecution officers, health services, social services, educational establishments, and other bodies such as probation officers, judges and magistrates are properly trained on the new law.

 SCHEDULES

Schedule 1

This Schedule defines abuse, domestic violence, controlling behaviour, coercive behaviour, who a victim is, who a perpetrator is, who an officer is, who children are and also defines a perpetrator for the purpose of interpreting the Bill’s clauses.

Schedule 2

This Schedule gives details of what local policies should be for the police and gives details of the sort of statements which it would be desirable for the police to issue to victims.

Eighth and Final Draft

16-09-2014