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31 October 2022
Domestic abuse

Val Castell, the Chair of our adult court committee, reports on a dynamic conference breakout session.

In 2021, the domestic abuse protection order (DAPO) was introduced. Replacing and extending the power of many existing orders—such as non-molestation orders, domestic violence protection orders and restraining orders—it forbids a perpetrator from being abusive towards a person they are “personally connected to”.

As well as enabling a broader range of restrictions to be imposed on perpetrators (including positive requirements, for example to undergo rehabilitation for underlying drug or alcohol issues), it also makes harsher sanctions for breaches available to sentencers. It is envisaged, therefore, that the DAPO will be the new go-to protective order for police and courts once piloting is complete.

With such an important change to the suite of orders available to magistrates, the adult court committee-led breakout session at our 2022 annual conference aimed to better understand the DAPO’s purpose and scope, and to discuss its implications for open justice. We heard from:

Because current orders are largely uncontested, concerns were raised that people may not understand the implications. In many cases, they are made in the absence of the perpetrator. This has worrying implications for procedural justice as defendants are unable to answer the cases against them.

As the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 also established a perpetrator register, consideration needs to be given to the likely impact a DAPO given in absence will have on a perpetrator’s daily life and employment. This also poses the following questions for the principle of openness:

  • What level of involvement might probation have, especially given the positive requirements? Chris said he didn’t anticipate further involvement than currently occurs.
  • How widely available will the information about perpetrators be? All panellists noted this had not been defined.
  • How will information between criminal and family courts be shared given that DAPOs are hybrid orders (that is, civil orders that can be made in both the family and adult courts and which carry criminal sanctions for breaches)? This too remains unclear.

Our session additionally touched on open justice-related implications of some of the Act’s other features. For example, the panel discussed how Clare’s Law (or the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme)—which obligates enforcement agencies to disclose information to somebody about their partner’s history of domestic abuse—might work in practice now that it is part of the Act.

Although the DAPO is a long way away from full national implementation—as pilots are only due to commence in early 2023—this session provided an important space to begin discussing some pertinent issues. Our adult court committee will stay abreast of developments. In the meanwhile, why not watch the session back here?