The Government has published their long-awaited consultation on domestic abuse. There are a number of points of interest to magistrates, including proposals for:
— A new statutory definition for domestic abuse, which includes the concept of 'economic abuse' rather than, as currently, financial abuse
— A new Domestic Abuse Protection Order, which would replace Domestic Violence Protection Orders. It would be broadly similar but would:
- Allow for the broader definition of domestic abuse – not just risk of violence but any threatening, coercive or controlling behaviour
- Be given by any court (civil, family or criminal)
- Be given of a court's own volition
- Be potentially unlimited in time (DVPOs are limited to 28 days)
- Include positive requirements, for example attendance at alcohol treatment, and electronic monitoring, as well as prohibitions
- It would be a criminal offence to breach the order
— A legislative assumption that all victims of domestic abuse are to be treated as being eligible for special measures. The prosecution would then not have to establish eligibility for special measures on the grounds of 'fear or distress', simply that the special measure would improve the quality of the evidence and would not inhibit any party effectively testing that evidence
— A prohibition on victims being cross-examined by an unrepresented defendant in criminal proceedings (although the criminal courts already have the power to prevent it)
— A statutory aggravating factor for offences involving domestic abuse, although it is not clear how this would differ from the new Sentencing Council guidelines which introduce aggravating factors for certain actions related to domestic abuse
— Use of conditional cautions for first-time domestic abuse offences
The consultation document also includes a question on how to improve appropriate responses to female offenders who are victims of domestic abuse and says that the Government will legislate to give family courts the power to prevent perpetrators from cross-examining their victims in person 'as soon as legislative time allows', so that measure is not part of this consultation.
The consultation closes on 31 May. The MA will be producing a response to the consultation and if you have any comments, please contact Jo Easton.