1.On 21 January 2019, the Government published its draft Domestic Abuse Bill and Explanatory Notes to the Bill, alongside an extensive package of measures not included in the legislation. The Government’s Bill has been seen as providing the potential to create a step change in tackling domestic abuse. The introduction of the Bill followed a major programme of work including, in March 2018, a consultation paper, Transforming the Response to Domestic Abuse, to which it received over 3,200 responses from across the UK. During the consultation period, the Government also held a number of events across England and Wales, engaging over 1,000 people including victims, charities, local authorities and professionals from other organisations.
2.The draft Bill contains nine measures which require primary legislation to implement. These are:
3.The Joint Committee was appointed by the House of Commons on 27 February 2019 and by the House of Lords on 6 March 2019 to conduct pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Domestic Abuse Bill. We received 539 written submissions in response to our call for evidence. We took oral evidence from 36 witnesses, representing organisations providing services to survivors of domestic abuse (including those providing specialist services to BAME survivors, migrant women, children, LGBT+ survivors and people with disabilities); NGOs working in the area of human rights; organisations providing programmes for perpetrators; lawyers and magistrates; the Equality and Human Rights Commission; the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England; HM Chief Inspector of Probation; the police; the former Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner; the Welsh Government Adviser on Violence against Women; and Ministers from the Home Office, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department of Health and Social Care. We held informal meetings with children and adults who had experienced domestic abuse. We are very grateful to them and to all who gave written and oral evidence to us. We would also like to thank our two specialist advisers, Professor Shazia Choudhry and Mrs Usha Sood, for their assistance.
4.Ours is not the only parliamentary inquiry into the proposed legislation and the Government’s wider domestic abuse strategy. In 2018 the Home Affairs Committee held a short inquiry into the Government’s proposed strategy, in order to identify the issues which it considered the Government needed to address in the draft bill and in its future policies. The Committee’s report was published in October 2018. The Joint Committee on Human Rights published a call for evidence on 29 January 2019 asking for views on whether the draft Domestic Abuse Bill adequately protects the rights of victims and perpetrators. The Committee subsequently sent a letter to the Government expressing its views on the draft Bill, to which it received a response.
5.The primary focus of the Bill is on the areas of policing and criminal justice, but there are many other issues that have to be tackled in order to combat domestic abuse. Many do not require legislation and need to sit alongside this draft Bill. Survivors of domestic abuse have multiple needs. Women experiencing multiple disadvantage do not typically present at specialist domestic and sexual violence services. Many have to leave their homes to escape the abuse and require safe accommodation. They may also have to change doctors and children may have to move to another school. As a result of their experiences, they may require access to mental health services. Some need advice on their immigration status or help in claiming benefits. They may need support through legal processes, such as applications in family courts or as witnesses in criminal trials.
6.The Government’s strategy is clear about the need for a multi-agency approach to combating domestic abuse, but a number of our witnesses believed the scope of the draft Bill could have been broader. Their detailed suggestions are addressed later in this report. We are firmly of the view that the aims of this Bill can be achieved only if there are changes in both policy and legislation relating to other areas of government activity, especially the provision of services to survivors (housing, health, financial support), the role of healthcare professionals and teachers in prevention and early intervention and a greater public awareness of the many forms that abuse can take. Throughout our report, we urge more active participation from all relevant government departments and a far more vigorous multi-agency response from those providing frontline public services.
7.A particular issue brought to our attention was the difficulty to those suffering from domestic abuse presented by the way in which Universal Credit is assessed and paid. The Rt Hon Frank Field, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee of the House of Commons, wrote to us on 3 May about his Committee’s July 2018 report on Universal Credit. He said that the Committee had concluded that single household payments enabled some perpetrators of domestic abuse to “take charge of potentially the entire household budget, leaving survivors and their children dependent on the abusive partner for all of their basic needs.” Frank Field explained that the Committee had recommended that the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) should use the Scottish Government’s intention to introduce split payments by default as an opportunity to “test and learn” the different possible approaches to splitting payments, and whether these helped survivors of abuse.
8.We are encouraged that JCP has put in place training for its staff to identify victims of domestic abuse and to make advance payments in case of financial hardship. Ministers need to consider whether those payments should be converted into grants that are not repayable.
9.We agree with the Work and Pensions Committee that Universal Credit should not exacerbate financial abuse. We are encouraged that DWP are considering alternative means of ensuring that the benefit system does not force people suffering from domestic abuse to continue to live with their abuser, but more has to be done to ensure this. We recommend that the Government reviews the impact of its welfare reform programme on victims of domestic abuse. Specifically, this review should examine how different approaches to splitting the Universal Credit single household payment might mitigate against the effects of domestic abuse.
10.Another overarching theme of our inquiry has been whether domestic abuse should be addressed separately or as part of the wider issue of violence against women and girls. One witness said: “you cannot untangle [domestic abuse] completely from other forms of violence against women and girls; for example, 45% of rapes happen in marriage or in an intimate relationship.” Another stated that police were missing the opportunity to detect patterns of behaviour by failing to link instances of possible abuse to other types of violent offence. As we discuss later in this report, the approach in Wales has been to address both domestic abuse and violence against women and girls together.
11.We believe that there should be greater integration of policies on domestic abuse and violence against women and girls to reflect the realities of the experience of victims. This has to be achieved without excluding men, boys and non-binary people from the protection of domestic abuse legislation and services for survivors. The legislation and practice in Wales provide useful lessons in this area.
12.As touched on above, further complications arise from the devolution settlements within the UK. As far as the Bill itself is concerned, Clause 60 states succinctly: “This Act extends to England and Wales.” However, the proposed role of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner covers some areas that are devolved matters in Wales, for example in relation to health services. The Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act aims to improve the public sector response in Wales to such abuse and violence, and created the role of a National Adviser to advise Ministers and improve joint working amongst public bodies. In general, the matters covered by the UK Government’s consultation on domestic abuse are devolved to Scotland and Northern Ireland. Scotland has the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, which provides for a statutory offence of domestic abuse against a partner or ex-partner, and also for some changes to criminal procedure, evidence and sentencing in domestic abuse cases. The Northern Ireland Executive published its Stopping Domestic and Sexual Violence and Abuse in Northern Ireland Strategy in July 2016. No further progress has been made with legislation there in the absence of a functioning Northern Ireland Government.
13.A number of witnesses listed concerns about the legal position in Northern Ireland, with one stating:
Northern Ireland does not have a statutory definition of domestic abuse;
There is no prohibition on the cross-examination of victims by alleged perpetrators in Northern Ireland;
There are inadequate protections for victims of stalking and harassment in Northern Ireland;
There is no specific offence to capture coercive and controlling behaviour in Northern Ireland;
Northern Ireland would be excluded from the remit of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner
Domestic Abuse Protection Orders (DAPOs) and Domestic Abuse Protection Notices (DAPN) […] will apply in Northern Ireland but will not be available to victims of Domestic Abuse who have an address in Northern Ireland.
14.We received a large number of written submissions on the issue of the law on abortion in Northern Ireland, the majority of which argued that the Bill should not be used as a means to change the law. The draft Bill makes no such provision, and we have not considered that it is part of our remit to consider this issue.
15.Ratification of the Istanbul Convention—which is one of the Government’s aims in introducing this Bill—requires compliance with its measures throughout the territories of the UK. The absence of legislation relating to Northern Ireland for some key aspects of the Bill has therefore become a significant issue in discussion of the extent to which measures in this Bill alone would make the UK compliant with the Convention.
16.The Minister recognised that Article 34 of the Istanbul Convention requires controlling or coercive behaviour to be an offence under domestic abuse legislation, and she accepted that it currently was not an offence in Northern Ireland. The Minister assured us that the Home Office was in talks with the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland about this matter.
17.We consider it unacceptable that the people of Northern Ireland are denied the same level of protection in relation to domestic abuse as those elsewhere in the United Kingdom because of the lack of a Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly. We understand and respect the devolution settlement, but in the absence of an executive we recommend that the provisions of the draft Bill be extended to Northern Ireland unless and until Northern Ireland enacts its own legislation in this area. The draft Bill should be amended to include a ‘sunset clause’ to this effect.
1 Home Office, Transforming the Response to Domestic Abuse Consultation Response and Draft Bill (January 2019)
2 Information about which is at Annex C of the Government’s response.
4 Joint Committee on Human Rights, ‘’, accessed 11 June 2019
5 (dated 10 April 2019)
6 (dated 20 May 2019)
7 Letter to the Chair from Rt Hon. Frank Field MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee ()
8 (Donna Covey)
9 (Kate Ellis)
10 See paragraphs 260–262 below.
11 See, for example, , , , , , ,
12 London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign ()
13 . See also Women’s Aid Federation Northern Ireland ().
Published: 14 June 2019