Domestic Abuse Bill

Written evidence submitted by the Mayor of London (DAB48)

1. Summary

1.1 The Mayor of London sincerely welcomes the long overdue Committee Stage of the Domestic Abuse Bill. The Mayor, the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime and the Victims’ Commissioner for London are adamant that domestic abuse, along with the many other forms of gendered violence which often go hand in hand, must be tackled as a priority. The Deputy Mayor and London’s Victims’ Commissioner would be happy to give oral evidence to the Committee if it so wishes.

1.2 It has never been more important than right now to tackle domestic abuse, which has sadly and in some cases, tragically been on the increase during the lockdown. The MPS crime dashboard reports four DA homicide offences during April 2020 compared with one in April 2019 – all women. Notwithstanding that men can also be victims/survivors of domestic abuse, women are over-represented in this category. Domestic abuse does not exist in a vacuum and it is heavily based in wider issues relating to violence against women and girls. For real progress to be made, the Bill should encompass all areas of violence against and women and girls (VAWG), across all ages.

1.3 The Mayor is pleased that the Government has listened to a wide range of stakeholders by making changes to the previous session’s Bill to include duties on local authorities to provide services to women and their children in safe accommodation. However, there are still some provisions missing from the Bill and further clarity is needed on some of its parts, so the Mayor looks forward to working with the Government and Parliamentarians to ensure that this Bill becomes the landmark piece of legislation it is intended to be.

1.4 First and foremost, there is a distinct lack of resources assigned to support the delivery of the transformational change required and outcomes sought by the Bill. The Home Office has published figures stating that in 2017, domestic abuse cost the Government £66 billion. The funds attached to this proposed legislation fall short of being able to address the issue in a meaningful manner. It is essential for the Government to set out how it plans to resource the measures in this legislation and to work with London going forward to look at what funding is required to meet the demand in the capital.

1.5 There is a strong need to ensure that investment in domestic abuse services are sustainable. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted exactly how essential VAWG services are and also has brought to the fore how much additional investment is required in these to respond to the needs presented by the public. Services designed to deal with crisis situations will not be equipped to affect the long-term impact that domestic abuse and other forms of VAWG has on an individual and their families, particularly children. Services supporting people after crisis and those who are lower in the risk category need to be funded. Measures to mandate minimum service standards for domestic abuse/VAWG on a borough/district level should also be required to guarantee a more consistent degree of service provision across the country.

1.6 In particular, the Mayor is calling on the Government to make provisions for Independent Domestic Violence Advisers (IDVAs) or equivalents to be able to support their clients from first contact, through the court process and in the aftermath to help survivors and their children access long-term services. Having the same IDVA representation at all stages of the criminal, civil and family court process, along with the prohibition of cross examination of victims in court will support the victim enabling them to give their best evidence. Across London, there is inconsistent application of this approach, with most victims being refused this as an option at all. The Government has an opportunity to enshrine this practice in law and ensure that the support of an IDVA in the court room becomes a victim’s right.

1.7 The Bill still fails to address the need to include migrant women in its scope. The Mayor has written to the Home Secretary about the urgent need to ensure migrant women and their children are protected under this legislation. Most notably, he is calling on the Government to abolish the no recourse to public funds (NRPF) policy which prevents many migrant women with insecure immigration status from accessing vital, often life-saving support and routes to safety.

2. COVID-19 and its impact on domestic abuse in London

2.1 It has sadly been borne out that incidents of domestic abuse have risen during this lockdown. Since the Government’s lockdown measures were introduced on Monday 23 March there has been a 25 per cent increase in calls to the National Domestic Abuse helpline and in the capital, domestic abuse-related incidents reported to the Police have increased by 10 per cent between 12 March and 24 May, compared to the same time last year. Charges and cautions in London were up 24% from 9 March to 19 April 2020.

2.2 In London, there is currently an asymmetry between a significant increase in calls to domestic abuse helplines and no significant increase in reporting to police. Many are concerned that this is due to survivors not being safe to call and report. As such, police and support services are anticipating a huge increase in demand and reporting when lockdown eases. Helplines are not only reporting an increase in the volume of calls, but also the complexity of the cases they are handling. They have seen significant increase in demand for digital/online support services, suggesting many survivors are not safe to call.

2.3 Refuge capacity is limited, with smaller specialist providers reporting they have no spaces at all. This will only increase as lockdown continues, as providers are unable to move women on.

2.4 Frontline services are under additional pressure as a result of the increased demand that they are seeing. Covid is also impacting service delivery because of staff who are ill or self-isolating and additional necessary safety measures such as needing to clean premises if staff or service users are infected.

2.5 To ensure that nobody is put off coming forward for help or support because of their immigration status, the Mayor has called on the Government to suspend the No Recourse to Public Funds condition, to ensure that everyone who needs access to support feels able to come forward.

2.6 The Mayor has also contributed £4m to the London Community Response Fund to create an ‘easy to access’ process for organisations across the capital to receive emergency financial support. More than 40 funders have since contributed to the response, including £500,000 from the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, and the total now stands at £16m. It has already supported more than 319 projects and given out more than £1.6m in grants, and the second wave of funding applications is currently open.

2.7 Across City Hall, the Mayor is making sure that emergency funds are given out to voluntary sector organisations that need them most. Voluntary sector organisations will have direct access in order to support their most vulnerable clients, including those who are fleeing abuse. Urgent work is also being done on the critical need for accommodation and wrap-around support for women in crisis, as well as accommodation as a preventative step for women who are at risk, and the removal of perpetrators from the family home. MOPAC is working with GLA housing, charity partners, the police, local authorities and others to take action on this and related issues.

2.8 The Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime and London’s Victims’ Commissioner in partnership with VCSE organisations, have secured additional accommodation to house those needing emergency safe accommodation, including a provision for those with No Recourse to Public Funds, and male survivors.

3. Detailed Comments on the Bill

3.1 Part 1 – Definition of Domestic Abuse - The Mayor agrees with the definition of Domestic Abuse (DA) in the Bill and is pleased to see that it references abuse from ex-partners and interfamilial violence. However, there is little on the face of the Bill to address the direct and indirect effects of DA on children and young people which can have a huge impact on them either as victims or perpetrators of violence later on in life. The Government’s response offers a start in providing protections for children in families where there is domestic abuse, yet it is not clear how such interventions would be resourced or what the approach would be to address the harm where a child has been present. The impact of domestic abuse can be far-reaching and early detection has to be followed by meaningful intervention. The London Violence Reduction Unit is funding extra support for children affected by DA in recognition that few specialised services exist at present.

3.2 As described in the summary above, the Mayor believes that the Bill should address all forms of gendered violence.

3.3 Part 2 – Creation of the DA Commissioner - The role of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner is an important one which should help to provide greater protections for victims and hold the Government and relevant agencies to account. The Mayor welcomes the early appointment of Nicole Jacobs to the post and hopes that the Government will look to making the role full time throughout the passage of the Bill. He appreciates that domestic abuse can happen irrespective of gender, but it is primarily experienced by women and often is coupled with other forms of VAWG. Therefore, he would urge Government to ensure that the remit of the Commissioner encompasses all forms of VAWG.

3.4 Part 3 – Powers for Dealing with Domestic Abuse - The Mayor supports the introduction of Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders only if the process and safeguarding measures for victims are better than the injunctions that currently exist. This section needs to be carefully scrutinised at Committee Stage to ensure that these new powers do not create more bureaucracy, cost and confusion for victims and those agencies that are responsible for administering the injunctions. He does however, welcome any improvements to sanctions following a breach and the notification requirements of the new orders.

3.5 The Bill is providing an initial step change in addressing the behaviour of perpetrators with the revision of the Domestic Abuse Protection Orders and the legislative footing for the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme. Short of implementing a register for serial perpetrators, the Bill must go further in ensuring that the systems in place for monitoring and addressing harm are mandated for use for those who perpetrate domestic abuse. In addition, a robust priority response must be given to the management of these individuals. MOPAC have undertaken a review with the College of Policing, identifying how best this can take place. We would be happy to share this with the committee and strongly recommend that the Government commit to reviewing this in 2 years, with a view to introduce a serial perpetrator register should improvements to the existing systems not bring about the necessary improvements.

3.6 To make better use of existing systems to better manage serial perpetrators, London would require significant service investment and additional police resourcing. Future funding should be devolved to London to enable effective commissioning in line with regional needs. The Bill must include a commitment to increased and sustained investment for perpetrator management and the rehabilitative programmes.

3.7 It is also vital that information can be shared accurately and quickly across force areas, which could most effectively be achieved by the introduction of a domestic abuse flag on PND. Currently there is no such mechanism, and this is something which can only be rectified centrally.

3.8 NEW Part 4 – This places new duties on tier one local authorities in England in respect of the provision of support to domestic abuse victims and their children in refuges and other safe accommodation. The Mayor welcomes this inclusion in the Bill but there is little detail yet about how this will work in practice, particularly in London, and how much funding will be devolved from central government to carry out this duty.

3.9 PART 5 – Prohibition of cross-examination in person in family proceedings This is a significant step in the right direction to support victims in court, but more work needs to be undertaken to end the practise of perpetrators using the family courts as a means to continue their abuse. Along with the expansion of IDVA (or equivalent) provision to support and give advice to victims throughout the process, the Mayor is calling for a DA Court Co-ordinators in all courts to advise on cases where there is an indication of DA (and related behaviours such as stalking, harassment and coercive control). This requirement should sit alongside better training within all courts and CAFCAS to recognise DA and related behaviours, particularly when the courts are being used as a platform to perpetuate abuse and enable it, including where domestic abuse is not cited in papers but is known about.


3.10 There is also a need for a specialist legal advocate to recognise and identify vexatious complaints as well as a mechanism to restrict vexatious complaints through the court system. The Mayor believes that there should be a more representative inquiry into the way family courts manage cases involving domestic abuse and other VAWG in child arrangement cases than that which is currently being undertaken by the Ministry of Justice.  The current family court review should be published in full.


3.11 The Mayor continues to call for special measures to be automatically available to victims in all courts, not just the criminal courts and would urge this change to be made to the Bill.


3.12 IDVAs - The Bill needs to ensure victims engaged with the Criminal Justice Service have access to a Domestic Abuse Advocate (IDVA) who is trained to understand how power and control can play out in court, to support them and engage with the system on their behalf. In order for this to take place, the Government needs to use the Bill to address the critical underfunding of Independent Domestic Violence Advocates both inside and outside of a court environment.

3.13 The provision of DA Court Coordinators needs to be seriously considered to manage the interplay between the CJS and support services, enabling IDVAs to focus on the support for the victim. And it is imperative that victims have the same IDVA throughout the CJS and family court process to ensure joined-up support. Moreover, there is a need for the courts to be joined up so that information on what is happening in the criminal courts is shared with the family and civil courts; so the victim has the right level of support and protection throughout the process and is not re-traumatised by having to share their experiences again and again.


3.14 A position statement regarding an IDVA’s standing in court should accompany the Bill, specifically to quell any potential defence claims that IDVA support in some way coaches victims once they become witnesses. A set of clear guidelines on this matter would be particularly useful.


3.15 In 2017, SafeLives reported that London had the recommended number of IDVAs based on its population-size recommendation. In reality, they were far stretched, primarily providing crisis support that was capped at a three-month time limit to ensure that their service could reach farther. The resource was not sufficient and warrants significantly more investment which the Mayor hopes will be forthcoming as a result of this Bill.

3.16 PART 7 – Other Provisions - The Mayor is not in agreement with Polygraph Testing for DA offenders released on licence as polygraph testing cannot be submitted as evidence in any criminal justice system proceedings.

3.17 Housing - The Mayor is pleased that secure tenancies for victims and their children fleeing domestic abuse are included in the Bill. Further work is required in Committee to ensure that victims have access to a safe home and should be automatically considered as priority need, rather than being subject to the vulnerability test to determine whether they qualify. Without access to safe, secure and settled accommodation, there is a risk that survivors will be left with no option but to return to a dangerous situation or sleep rough putting themselves and their children at risk of further abuse and exploitation.

4. Provisions still missing from the current Bill

4.1 Immigration and Domestic Abuse - The Bill significantly fails to address the issue of domestic abuse and immigration status. The Mayor is extremely concerned that the Bill excludes migrant women from the scope of protection and by doing so may have breached the Istanbul Convention. The legislation should make clear that the safety of an individual will outweigh any immigration concerns and investigations will be deferred until the victim and their children are safe and stable. Many women have expressed concerns that their immigration status makes them feel unable to seek help or leave their abusers. The Mayor expects these omissions to be rectified at Committee Stage. Measures should include:

o Agreed defined pathways with Police officials to prioritise victims’ safety and support over immigration offences and adopt a ‘firewall’ in regard to sharing victims’ personal details and immigration officials.

o Assurance that all victims of Violence Against Women and Girls are entitled to the financial support and safe accommodation they require in order to leave an abusive relationship irrespective of their immigration status.

o Abolish the no recourse to public funds (NRPF) policy which prevents many migrant women with insecure immigration status from accessing vital, often life-saving support and routes to safety.

o Extend the time period for which the Destitution Domestic Violence Concession (DDVC) is provided for at least six months.

4.2 Female Offenders - The Domestic Abuse Bill must be considered alongside the Government’s Female Offender Strategy. The Mayor’s commitment to addressing the complex needs of female offenders who are also victims of domestic abuse is clear. It includes:

o The need for early intervention work for female offenders that are/have been domestic abuse victims;

o the need to ensure that a history of abuse is captured at every stage of the criminal justice system as a way we can work better with female offenders and vulnerable women at risk of offending to identify domestic abuse earlier.

o diversion from the criminal justice system altogether being a key for offenders with experience of domestic abuse, alongside

o the need to ensure availability of community and custodial support for these women;

o the need for health, finance and accommodation interventions and advice for women in the community, are all paramount.

5. Further evidence at Committee Stage

5.1 The Mayor of London, the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime and the Victims’ Commissioner for London will continue to submit written evidence to the Committee as and when appropriate, particularly when relevant amendments are published. The Victims’ Commissioner for London will submit detailed evidence on the Family Courts and its impact on domestic abuse shortly.

4 June 2020


Prepared 11th June 2020