Domestic Abuse Bill

Written evidence submitted by Victim Support (DAB84)

Briefing for Domestic Abuse Public Bill Committee


1. Victim Support (VS) is an independent charity dedicated to supporting people affected by crime and traumatic incidents in England and Wales. We provide specialist domestic abuse services across the country and have a network of 140 Independent Domestic Violence Advisors (IDVAs). Our domestic abuse specific staff across the country are linked together through a community of practice which meets weekly.

2. Last year we provided specialist support to 40,000 victims of domestic abuse.

3. The Domestic Abuse Bill has the potential to transform the response to domestic abuse and improve protections, services and support for victims and survivors. We welcome many of the measures but there are areas where we believe the Bill needs to be strengthened. These are outlined below:

Statutory duty to provide services to all victims of domestic abuse

4. Clause 53 of the Bill introduces a statutory duty on local authorities in England to provide accommodation based support for victims of domestic abuse. While this has the potential to enhance service provision for victims who need accommodation support, we believe that the Bill must go further and ensure that all victims are able to access support services, whether in accommodation based services or at home or in the community.

5. We would like to see the Bill introduce a full statutory duty on all relevant statutory bodies, not just local authorities, to commission a full range of services for domestic abuse victims. This must be underpinned by a statutory duty to ensure that sufficient funding is allocated to the relevant public bodies to ensure that they can meet this duty.

6. A statutory duty to commission specialist services for all victims, including but not limited to those who access accommodation based support, will help to ensure that a full breadth of services are available for all victims, including those who stay at home or in the community. Without this, there is a risk that local authorities may reduce non-accommodation based support services in order to meet the currently proposed statutory duty.

Ensure all survivors have access to services and safety regardless of their life experiences, identities, backgrounds or migrant status

7. Migrant victims of domestic abuse face unique and significant barriers in accessing support and safety. Our 2019 research report Trapped that found that survivors’ concerns related to immigration status and the risk of deportation that prevented them from engaging with the police and the legal system. [1] Perpetrators can also exploit victim’s immigration status and fears about seeking support from the police by using threats of deportation and deceptive information to maintain control. Furthermore, survivors acknowledged that limited ability to speak English was also a barrier to reporting abuse and seeking help.

8. The Government should ensure that all survivors can access support services regardless of their immigration status, English proficiency or background. Different life experiences, identities, backgrounds or knowledge of English should not act as barriers to seeking help and safety and accessing rights. The Bill must ensure that victims with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) due to their immigration status are given equal access to specialist support by abolishing the NRPF policy that is a barrier to this happening.

Domestic Abuse Protection Orders

9. We welcome the introduction of stronger protection orders. Research undertaken by VS in 2019 found that while the current Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPOs) are seen as an effective tool, there are issues around their accessibility and lack of teeth to tackle breaches. [2] The new Domestic Abuse Protection Orders (DAPOs) address some of these issues, such as by making breaches a criminal offence.

10. We also welcome the government’s decision to cover the cost of court fees incurred by the police for DAPO applications during the pilot. Our research found that the cost of paying for the current DVPOs is a clear barrier to the police applying for them. Additionally, in a scenario where a victim does not have to pay for DAPO applications but the police do, we fear that this will encourage police officers to place the onus on the victim to make an application in order to cut costs and internal red tape. We strongly recommend that the government continue to cover the cost of court fees when DAPOs are rolled out nationally.

11. However there are areas where DAPOs need to be clarified and strengthened. Clarification would be particularly welcome on which third parties will be able to apply for DAPOs, and we urge the government to involve domestic abuse service providers in a robust review of the DAPO pilots. We would also welcome DAPOs being extended to give discretion to consider including victim’s workplace.

12. Our research also identified that many police officers found the 48 hour period between the issue of a DVPN and a DVPO application in the magistrates’ courts challenging. As the DVPN and DVPO applications are time sensitive, in order to meet the deadlines and secure a successful DVPO officers often cannot focus on other competing day to day tasks. One police officer told us that having even just one extra day would be beneficial and allow the police to prepare the paperwork and manage existing workload, as spending significant time at court for the DVPO means that they have to put off any current work.

13. This time period may also be acting as a barrier to the police issuing protection notices, and as such we recommend that the Government consider extending the notice timeframe for the new DAPNs to 72 hours rather than 48 hours.

Access to special measures in the family court

14. Attending court can be a difficult and stressful process, with many survivors anxious about making contact with the perpetrator, or concerned that the perpetrator will attempt to continue their control and abuse in the courtroom. Special measures provide vital protections for survivors, and many are positive about their impact:

15. "They came in and let me know the layout of the court and they offered me to be behind a screen so I did not have to see him. They even said that I did not have to go in if I did not want to. So I ended up not even going into the court room. I felt very supported." (DA survivor)

16. The Bill as currently drafted includes a legislative assumption that domestic abuse victims are to be treated as eligible for special measures in criminal proceedings (Clause 58). This is very welcome, as is Clause 46, which makes victims of domestic abuse eligible for special measures when giving evidence in relation to DAPO proceedings.

17. However, the lack of access to special measures in the family courts is a glaring omission from the Bill. 2018 research by Women’s Aid and Queen Mary University of London found that 61% of victims said they had not had any form of special measures in the family court. [3] The special measures that are available in criminal proceedings need to exist in the family court too, and we urge the Bill to be amended to make victims and survivors of domestic abuse eligible for special measures in the family courts.

The use of pre-charge Bail

18. The Policing and Crime Act 2017 made significant changes to the police use of pre-charge bail, including introducing a general presumption against its use. The use of pre-charge bail has fallen significantly since the provisions came into force, and the number of individuals released without bail has increased. [4] This has had serious consequences for victims of domestic abuse.

19. Victims can be put at considerable risk if bail conditions are not applied and enforced. Our IDVAs often report that in a number of cases victims are harassed or assaulted during the investigation, and frequently the perpetrator will contact the victim and attempt to intimidate them into withdrawing their support for the police investigation. Not having bail conditions in place means that victims may lack vital protections, and it makes it more difficult to address intimidating behaviour.

20. In one such case, a perpetrator was released without bail conditions and immediately turned up at the victim’s home to verbally abuse her and blame her for his arrest. The victim suffered a panic attack, and felt she had not been taken seriously and lost her faith in the police. Losing confidence in the police puts the victim at risk of further harm, while the criminal justice system is negatively impacted if victims decide not to report again in future.

21. We welcome the government’s recent consultation on reforms to the use of pre-charge bail and we believe that the government can make changes through the Domestic Abuse Bill. We would like to see the Bill introduce the following changes to the Act:

· Introduce a presumption in favour of pre-charge bail in all cases of domestic abuse and sexual violence.

· Introduce a presumption in favour of pre-charge bail in all cases where the victim and alleged perpetrator are known to each other.

June 2020


Prepared 18th June 2020