121.The Government proposes to establish an independent Domestic Abuse Commissioner to provide public leadership on domestic abuse issues and play a key role in overseeing and monitoring provision of domestic abuse services in England and Wales. The commissioner’s office is assumed to consist of 15 staff at a total cost of approximately £1 million per year. The Government aims to provide a balance between giving the Domestic Abuse Commissioner sufficient powers to improve services nationally, while avoiding duplicating existing inspection regimes and maintaining the independence of local areas to commission services, and proposes that, to achieve this, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner could have the powers and resources to:
122.The charity Transform Justice, which commissions and publishes research and advocates for reform of criminal justice policy and practice, was not convinced that a domestic abuse commissioner is necessary:
We believe such a role would duplicate the functions of other organisations and “tsars”. There is already a Victims’ Commissioner, who represents the interests of victims of domestic abuse. There is a minister in the Home Office who has domestic abuse in her portfolio and civil servants tasked with implementing the government’s policy on domestic abuse. The risk of creating a new post is that the incumbent is likely either to duplicate, tread on toes or prompt existing stakeholders to absolve themselves of responsibility. Instead the Home Office should review how domestic abuse policy is coordinated and ensure that mechanisms are available for legitimate challenge.
123.However, other witnesses generally welcomed the proposal to create the new Commissioner, and some called for the Commissioner to have more powers and more resources than were being proposed by the Government. Professor Jane Callaghan described the proposed new role as “an absolutely crucial innovation” but said that there was a need to strengthen the powers of the Commissioner and the way they could operate. Sisters for Change called for the new Commissioner to have the power to compel national and local public bodies to work together and share information, as well as to have enforcement authority to investigate issues and complaints on behalf of victims or frontline service organisations. Hestia Housing and Support said that responsibility for education and awareness should be a key part of the role of the new Domestic Abuse Commissioner. Action for Children recommended that the Commissioner’s role should include monitoring and oversight of services specifically for children and young people affected by domestic abuse. Families Need Fathers Cymru called for a separate Commissioner with a remit for male victims of abuse.
124.The Office of the Merseyside Police and Crime Commissioner pointed to the need for clear guidance on how the Domestic Abuse Commissioner would work in partnership with other Commissioners such as PCCs to ensure that there is no duplication of responsibilities and powers across similar positions. The Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria pointed out that the Children’s Commissioner has a wide remit with influencing powers which enable her “to reach across statutory agencies and address pressing issues”, and said that this should also be the case for the Domestic Abuse Commissioner.
125.Victim Support suggested that the Commissioner should have the powers to require statutory agencies to provide information and to co-operate with investigations or inquiries; to examine the commissioning of domestic abuse services and to identify gaps in provision; and to hold the Government and agencies to account to ensure that both the National Statement of Expectations and the actions and ambitions within the Violence Against Women and Girls strategy are met.
126.A number of witnesses argued that the Commissioner should have oversight of VAWG policies, and not be limited to domestic abuse. Refuge said that because of the “overlapping and interlinked nature of the different forms of violence against women and girls” a VAWG Commissioner rather than a Domestic Abuse Commissioner “would be more effective in driving progress for survivors”. The End Violence Against Women coalition explained that:
We welcome the creation of a new independent commissioner in this area. But, if the new commissioner’s brief is limited to domestic violence only, they will be out of step with the established national policy framework in this area: the Home Office-led but cross-departmental strategy to end violence against women and girls, leaving them working on a limited set of objectives, only parts of service provision, only some relevant data, only parts of local commissioners’ powers, and inevitably needing to review law and practice in areas stretching beyond what is termed domestic violence (in the area of new and emerging forms of abuse online for example).
127.We welcome the proposal for a new Commissioner, however, the creation of a Commissioner will not in itself improve delivery of the Government’s domestic abuse strategy if the new post is largely a figurehead with limited powers.
128.We believe that a key function for the new Commissioner must be to establish a robust accountability mechanism to ensure that services are delivered where they are required. Given the broad remit of the domestic abuse strategy, the Commissioner will also need to have sufficient authority to investigate and comment on the impact of mainstream Government services on victims of domestic abuse, such as access to justice, health, housing and welfare benefits, as well as on specifically tailored domestic abuse services. Recognising the challenges highlighted by the first holder of the role of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, we support the creation of a new Commissioner to support delivery of the domestic abuse strategy, provided that they are given adequate powers and resources to be effective. We recommend that the Government review its proposals with a view to strengthening the remit and increasing the resources of the proposed Commissioner. It is essential that the Commissioner is fully independent: to this end, we also recommend that the Commissioner is accountable, and reports directly, to Parliament rather than to Government, and is independently accommodated and resourced.
129.Confining the scope of the new Commissioner to domestic abuse would fail to recognise the gendered nature of domestic abuse, and its links to other forms of gender-based abuse in the lives of many women and girls. We therefore recommend this new post is established as a Violence Against Women and Girls and Domestic Abuse Commissioner. The remit of the new Commissioner should reflect the scope of both the domestic abuse and the VAWG strategies.
158 HM Government, Transforming the Response to Domestic Abuse: Government Consultation, 8 March 2018, p64
159 Home Office and Ministry of Justice, , November 2017
160 HM Government, Transforming the Response to Domestic Abuse: Government Consultation, 8 March 2018, p65
Published: 22 October 2018