Bid to make domestic abuse a crime

The Evening Standard

Published: 29 December 2013

Domestic abuse could be made a crime for the first time in a move that campaigners claim will improve "appallingly low" conviction rates.

A new Bill being introduced in the House of Commons next month would make repeated abusive behaviour an offence punishable by a jail term of up to 14 years.

According to Women's Aid, figures show that in the five years to 2011 only 6.5% of domestic violence incidents reported to the police led to convictions.

Criminal justice expert Harry Fletcher, who drafted the legislation with Paladin, said: "Domestic abuse is still not taken seriously by the criminal justice system. The number of convictions is appallingly low at 6.5%. This Bill will criminalise abusive behaviour as part of a course of conduct. It will lead to more reporting, more convictions and greater confidence for victims."

Earlier this year, shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry highlighted that around 25% of domestic violence cases passed to the Crown Prosecution Service resulted in no action being taken.

However the proportion of cases brought to court that lead to convictions has reached a record high at 74.3%.

The Domestic Abuse Bill would criminalise a pattern of abusive behaviour involving two or more incidents against a victim or their children.

It also includes plans for protective orders which would ban convicted abusers from behaviour including contacting their victim or entering certain geographical areas, which if breached would mean a jail term of up to five years.

MP Elfyn Llwyd, who is backing the Bill, said: "Domestic abuse is characterised by a catalogue of incidents, a pattern of behaviour which can include coercive control and emotional blackmail as well as physical violence.

"It was positive that the Association of Chief Police Officers last year amended their definition of domestic abuse to have regard of this fact.

"But it is high time that the criminal law was also amended so that domestic abuse was made a criminal offence in its own right - that is why I will be introducing this as a Bill early in the new year."

The legislation, sponsored by probation union NAPO and the Justice Unions Parliamentary Group, has cross-party support and is also being backed by Conservative Robert Buckland, Labour Sandra Osborne and Liberal Democrat Sir Bob Russell.

Mr Fletcher added: "Police and the CPS tend to deal the matter before them and not, often long term, courses of repetitive abusive behaviour.

"This Bill will make domestic abuse an offence with a maximum sentence of up to 14 years in prison. It will be the first time that an attempt will be made to criminalise a course of domestic abuse in this country.

"The measure would increase victim confidence to report, lead to more thorough investigations and convictions and help keep women safe."

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Domestic violence crackdown will send repeat offenders to jail for 14 years