Domestic Abuse Bill

Written evidence submitted by Equi-law UK (DAB02)

Domestic Abuse Bill Committee.

 

1 Summary.

Equi-law UK is centrally concerned that:

· as presently constructed and worded, there is a general presumption that someone (usually a man) who is accused of abuse, is guilty and has to prove their innocence.

· the Bill focuses its attention on the claimant and has nothing to say about the effect on children of the sudden (and sometimes permanent) loss of their parent (usually their father). The significant negative effects on fatherless children, particularly boys, is not addressed.

· when issued with an Order the accused is likely to be traumatised. No provision is made in the Bill for the welfare of the accused.

· in the guidance for the Bill (BRIEFING PAPER Number CBP 8630, 30 September 2019 Domestic Abuse Bill 2017-19) the words ‘victim’ and ‘perpetrator’ are used (not in the Bill). This adds to the culture, widely experienced in the Family Court process, that someone is a ‘perpetrator’ simply by being accused and that the person claiming to be the ‘victim’ is blameless.
AMENDMENT: Replace the words ‘victim’ and ‘perpetrator’ with ‘claimant’ and ‘accused’, or preceded with the word ‘alleged’.

2 Main points

3 This Bill replaces Non-Molestation Orders (NMO) with Domestic Abuse Protection Orders (DAPO). Our comments are, in part, from experience with the current NMO system where the current Bill does not appear to remedy these faults (or further enshrines them).

4 There is a general presumption of guilt in the present system and we see nothing in the current legislation which would change this. It is entirely possible for someone to obtain a DAPN and then a DAPO simply on the basis of allegations. In the current system, the alleged perpetrator is denied access to their home and may lose contact with their children while a process (which can often take months or years) slowly unfurls.

5 AMENDMENT: Add clause: There will be a general presumption that children continue to see both parents unless there is significant evidence that they are likely to come to harm. Evidence of domestic abuse toward one parent will not be taken to assume that the accused parent is a danger to their own children.

Specific points

6 AMENDMENT: Add to 22.3 : ‘and explained verbally to P. The constable must be confident that P has understood and mentally received the Order by asking clarification questions.’ This is because there are cases where P is either illiterate, has poor reading cognition or has English as a second language. In these cases P can be found in breach of a DAPN they have not understood.

7 22.4 If P has just been served with a DAPO which prevents them returning to their current home, there may be no way they can give an address. P will almost certainly be traumatised at this point. They may nominate a friend, but may ‘sofa-surf’ in the coming weeks.

8 AMENDMENT: Add to 23: ‘P cannot be held in breach of an Order of which they are not aware’.

9 AMENDMENT: Delete 25.2c "(c) a person specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State;" This statement is too open. A future Secretary of State could unreasonably expand the list of those who can make an application to include those with an interest in the effect of the DAPO.

10 AMENDMENT: Replace 26. 5 "(5) The notice under subsection (4) is to be treated as having been given if it has been left at the address given by P under section 22(4)" with ‘The address given by P in section 22(4) cannot be relied on. The court must ensure that all reasonable efforts are made to contact P including messages by mobile phone informing P where the application can be received.’ As in 22.4 above, if P has just been evicted from their home, any address they give when the DAPO is issued may not be valid due to the trauma and disruption of the event.

11 26.6 Amend to reflect re-worded 2.6.5

12 AMENDMENT: Amend 26.7 to read: ‘(7) The court may adjourn the hearing of the application for no more than 4 weeks. The notice continues in effect until the application has been determined or withdrawn.’ This clause has the effect of leaving P with no opportunity to defend themselves, see children etc for an indefinite period. In practice the Family Court system often strings out the hearings for months while reports are received etc. The Bill needs to be worded so that P has the chance to defend themselves in court within a reasonable period.

Mike Bell

Equi-law UK

October 2019

(Equi-law UK promotes gender equality in UK laws and their implementation. https://equi-law.uk/)

 

Prepared 29th October 2019