Is it just me or are these domestic abuse plans odd?

domestic violence

On Friday the Prime Minister’s Office, the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice joined their formidable forces to publish a press release informing us that:

“Prime Minister Theresa May announced plans for a major programme of work leading towards bringing forward a Domestic Violence and Abuse Act.”

The news appears to have been generally welcomed, particularly by domestic abuse charities, although the Labour Party (surely quite rightly) pointed out that the success of any new initiative depended upon the necessary funding being available.

So, what exactly is this “major programme”? Well, despite the fact that a new statute has been mentioned, no new laws have been announced. Instead, we are told that Theresa May “plans to transform the way we think about and tackle domestic violence and abuse” via a programme of work that “will look at what more can be done to improve support for victims especially in the way the law, and legal procedures, currently work for such victims.”

We are further told that experts in the field of domestic abuse “will be invited to contribute ideas and proposals for improving the way the system works which is likely to lead to legislation – making it much easier for law enforcement bodies to find and use more consistently the measures at their disposal.” In addition, and slightly worryingly, we are also told that: “The Prime Minister will also ask for any potential ‘quick wins’ in the intervening period to be identified and acted upon.” I’m not sure of the distinction between ‘quick wins’ and rushed, ill thought-out, ‘quick fixes’, but we won’t go into that.

All of this work, it is hoped, will lead to measures which “will raise public awareness of the problem – as well as encourage victims to report their abusers and see them brought to justice”. Those measures, presumably, will be contained in the said Domestic Violence and Abuse Act.

Okay.

Now, perhaps it is just me, but isn’t there something just a little odd about all of this? Isn’t the usual sequence of events that the government announces an investigation into a perceived problem (usually via a Law Commission report), the investigation is carried out and then the government decides whether or not to enact any recommendations contained in the investigators’ report? In other words, no legislation is announced until there are concrete proposals that the government wishes to enact. Here, we have a shiny new Act, but nothing to fill it.

I do hope I am wrong but to me all of this smacks a little of trying to make political capital of an issue which, in Theresa May’s own words, “is a life shattering and absolutely abhorrent crime”. What if the programme fails to come up with any measures that the government considers to be worthy of enactment? What if it does come up with some worthy ideas, but they fall far short of the transformative measures we have been promised? After all, setting up a programme and expecting it to come up with something that will make a substantial difference to an issue such as domestic abuse is, to say the least, rather optimistic. Surely the Prime Minister is aware of the enormity of the task she has set, and the likelihood that it will fall far short of the high expectations she is encouraging? Is she just getting involved just to make her look like a caring leader who really makes things better?

Domestic violence and abuse is, of course, an issue that has been given a great deal of attention by various governments over the years, including Theresa May’s own efforts when she was Home Secretary. If all of that attention has failed to come up with solutions, it’s difficult to see that this new initiative will be any more successful. And by ‘solutions’ I do not mean eradicating domestic abuse, as some commentators have suggested should be the aim of this initiative – domestic abuse will of course never be entirely eradicated, and anyone who suggests that it will is at best wildly over-optimistic, or at worst naïve.

Personally, I am not sure that further law can achieve much, although I would be extremely happy to be proved wrong. My view is that the best approach to the problem is to educate. Education can be for all ages but in particular our children need to be told that domestic violence and abuse is wrong. They need to have it explained to them how it destroys lives, not just of the victims, but also the perpetrators and, of course, any children involved. No one should be allowed to think that it is in any way acceptable or excusable. That, I think, is the best way forward.

You can read the PM’s/Home Office’s/ MoJ’s press release here.

Photo by joshhikes via Flickr

John Bolch

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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5 comments

Andrew - February 21, 2017 at 7:19pm

I wonder if the PM has ever been in a magistrates’ court when the complainant in a DV case does not show up? She has assured the police she will be there: there may have been a witness summons (although in London the Met now does not offer conduct money so it will not have been legally served) and there are screens: but she is not there. Her phone is off. The defendant is sitting there, with a dead-pan expression on his face.
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The CPS ask for an adjournment. The defence protests vigorously; he has been on bail, has always turned up, there have been no allegations of breach of bail conditions. It is not in the interests of justice to adjourn because the Crown cannot get its principal – or only – witness to court.
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The Bench agrees.
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The CPS apply to read her statement suggesting that she is in fear. Up gets defence counsel again: you cannot cross-examine a statement, and there is nothing to suggest that she is in fear. You cannot say “she is not here because she is in fear” and “she must be in fear because she is not here” – that is a circular argument. It would not be fair to the defendant.
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The Bench agrees; the CPS offers no evidence; the charge is dismissed. The defendant is free to go home. A restraining order on an acquittal is rarely appropriate and certainly not here. She has in any case had weeks to seek protection through the civil courts. So off he goes.
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And that plays itself out, with variations, week in, week out, in every magistrates; court in the land. And it just goes to prove that the criminal law does not ahve all the answers, doesn’t it?

Nicolette Lee Macklin - February 22, 2017 at 9:09am

I have known first hand a husband being mentally, verbally and physically abused by the wife. She had affairs bullied and threatened him to the point he was actually scared of her and locked himself in his bedroom at night as she had sideways wanted her own room, but he stayed for the child. She had previously been known of a serious assault on her ex boy friend where she nearly went to jail. Women in the U.K. Seem to think they are entitled just because they are women. I think there should be a lot more support for the poor men who are forced to leave their home and not have a home themselves to live in and access to their children because they are used as pawns by the mother’s. When is someone going to stand up for men’s rights too. It is abhorrent that men are treated like criminals and the wives like victims.. The Law in the U.K. Needs a serious overhaul. Is Theresa May going to be pro women or do the right thing for men too…….?

Stitchedup - February 22, 2017 at 9:18am

This simply demonstrates that the issue of domestic abuse is now simply a political band wagon and money making industry. It’s difficult to see what more can be done in law to help lock-up more innocent men, permanently damage their children, and decimate families. Let’s take a look at a few examples:
Article 6 no longer applies.
The presumption of innocent until proven guilty no longer applies.
The right to use reasonable force in self defence no longer applies.
Article 8 no longer applies.
Article 19 no longer applies.
PACE code G no longer applies.
A man does not have the right to an opinion.
A man does not have a right to a say in how the family’s finances are managed.
A man does not have right to a roof over his head.
A man does not have a right to meaningful contact with his children.
Contrary to the scenario Andrew describes above, a man accused of domestic abuse will most likely have his case heard by a hostile District Judge who will interpret reasonable excuse as a life or death issue and not what a commonsensical jury of peers would or perhaps even a bench of suitably indoctrinated magistrates.

paul apreda - February 25, 2017 at 9:56am

DV is a massive problem in the Family Courts. Let’s never dismiss or trivialise the impact it can and does have on the lives of families – especially children. The problem however is the conflation of Violence against Women & Girls with Domestic Violence and Abuse. Almost 50% of ALL Private Law cases are being flagged up to Courts on Sch 2 reports as having DV as a significant aspect. We think that figure is wrong. It should be 100%. Services need to be developed to support men who are being abused by their ex partners using child contact as a weapon against them. We already routinely signpost men through the Legal Aid gateway by a referral from a GP to a DV support service. But there is a risk. Most DV support services unlawfully discriminate against male callers seeking help by ‘screening’ them to determine whether they believe them to be abusers. If those services – largely run by committed feminists as part of ‘Women’s Aid’ organisations – believe these men to be making false statements they will report them to Police, Children’s services and other bodies such as MARACs who will act against those men.
We intend to be part of the dialogue with Government representing male survivors. Our strategy will not focus on the widespread abuse of DV allegations to secure advantage in Family proceedings, simply because Courts will not act to prevent and combat that. Instead we’ll work to ensure that men denied contact with their children are recognised as the victims of emotional and psychological abuse that they genuinely are.

Rob Cheyne - February 26, 2017 at 9:14am

I’m just shocked a how changes to procedures can be introduced about a fundamental tenant of justice without any proper independent research or analysis being undertaken. When men raise issues about parental alienation it takes many years for the social workers and courts to even think this could be a possibility let alone use the term.

Sadly the few mens groups don’t receive the tens of millions of pounds in funding that the numerous women’s groups do so can’t undertake the research.

I’m shocked that the MoJ fails to keep even the most basic of statistics about each case which, over time, would illuminate the issues and needs for rule changes. How many men who have contact with children reduced on the back of allegations of severe violence go on to commit any crime at all? I suspect the percentage is single figures.

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