Draft Domestic Abuse Bill Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Introduction

1.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. (Paragraph 6)

2.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. (Paragraph 8)

3.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. (Paragraph 9)

4.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. (Paragraph 11)

5.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. (Paragraph 14)

6.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. (Paragraph 17)

Statutory definition

7.We have heard compelling evidence that certain forms of abusive behaviour are not being recognised by public bodies as domestic abuse. This is usually because they are disproportionately experienced by BME people, or relate to an individual’s immigration status, even though such abuse is almost invariably perpetrated by a member of the victim’s household or extended family. We recommend that the Bill is amended to provide that the following types of abuse are always treated as domestic abuse: Female Genital Mutilation; forced marriage; honour-based crimes; coercive control related to immigration status; and modern slavery and exploitation. This amendment must make it clear that specifying these types of abuse does not limit the definition of domestic abuse, it simply clarifies that they fall within the statutory definition, and the victims and perpetrators should be treated accordingly. (Paragraph 28)

8.We endorse the Government’s approach to defining domestic abuse by the inclusion of broad categories of behaviour in order to future-proof the statutory definition, subject to our recommendation in paragraph 28 on specific abusive behaviours that must be treated as falling within the definition of domestic abuse. (Paragraph 29)

9.We recommend that the statutory definition should be redrafted to make it clear that single occurrences may constitute domestic abuse, and it is not necessary to prove a “course of behaviour”. In making this recommendation we specifically have in mind abusive acts such as abandonment, where a wife or partner is deserted abroad without papers to prevent them from exercising their matrimonial or residence rights in England and Wales. It would not be in the spirit of the Government’s stated ambitions for the Bill if such behaviour could arguably be excluded from the definition because it can be characterised as a stand-alone event. (Paragraph 31)

10.We welcome that the Government has legislated to make relationship and sex education mandatory for all school age children and that it will tackle the issue of what healthy relationships look like with children from the age of five in an age appropriate way. We were disturbed to hear from young people themselves that they felt violent abuse in relationships between those under the age of 16 was not taken seriously. (Paragraph 40)

11.We have found it difficult to decide on the age limit that should apply to the definition of domestic abuse but, on balance, agree the age-limit of 16 in the proposed statutory definition of domestic abuse is the right one. We recognise the concerns of witnesses that abuse suffered, and perpetrated, by under 16s in intimate relationships is not captured by the definition but believe the danger of lowering the age-limit would be the inevitable criminalisation of under 16-year-old perpetrators. This does not mean that it would always be inappropriate for perpetrators under 16 to face the criminal courts. The police need to review their guidance in this area. The priority must be to develop consequences that ensure young perpetrators stop their abusive behaviour, for their own sake as well as the children they abuse. It is equally vital that children who have suffered abuse in a peer to peer relationship receive specialist support. (Paragraph 41)

12.We recommend that the Government conduct a specific review on how to address domestic abuse in relationships between under-16 year olds, including age-appropriate consequences for perpetrators. We note the inadequacy of the criminal justice system in dealing with these cases and recommend the review consider how to remedy this, including for cases that are not destined to come before the court, therefore ensuring victims’ need for justice is met. While the adult model is not the right one for children, the harm caused to all concerned is very high and this Bill will not be the landmark legislation it is intended to be if it does not tackle this difficult area. (Paragraph 42)

13.We also agree that abuse of children by adults must always be treated as child abuse and reducing the age limit for victims runs the risk of confusing the approach of public authorities and denying the young victims of such abuse access to specialist services. (Paragraph 43)

14.We are concerned over the absence from the definition of children as victims of abuse perpetrated by adults upon adults and the evidence we have heard that this has a negative impact on services for children who have suffered such trauma. We recommend the Bill be amended so the status of children as victims of domestic abuse that occurs in their household is recognised and welcome the assurance from the Home Office Minister that the Government seeks to include the harm caused to children in abusive households in the definition. This would also ensure compliance with the Istanbul Convention which makes it clear that children may be the victims of domestic abuse by witnessing it rather than being the subjects of it. (Paragraph 46)

15.We recommend the Government consider amending the relevant Children Act definition of harm to explicitly include the trauma caused to children by witnessing coercive control between adults in the household. (Paragraph 47)

16.We recommend the Government reconsider including the “same household” criterion in its definition of relationships within which domestic abuse can occur. This landmark Bill must ensure that no victim of domestic abuse will be denied protection simply because they lack the necessary relationship to a perpetrator with whom they live. (Paragraph 49)

17.We recognise that abuse of disabled people by their “carers” often mirrors that seen in the other relationships covered by the Bill. We conclude that abuse by any carer towards this particularly vulnerable group should be included in the statutory definition. We share the concerns of our witnesses, however, that, even with the “same household” criterion included in the definition of “personally connected”, paid carers, and some unpaid ones, will be excluded from the definition of domestic abuse. We recommend the Government review the “personally connected” clause with the intention of amending it to include a clause which will cover all disabled people and their carers, paid or unpaid in recognition of the fact this type of abuse occurs in a domestic situation. (Paragraph 51)

18.We recommend that the Secretary of State publish draft statutory guidance in time for the Second Reading of the Bill, and Clause 57 be amended to require the final guidance to be published within six months of the Bill’s enactment. (Paragraph 65)

19.The Government has described this Bill as a once-in-generation opportunity to transform the response to the terrible crime of domestic abuse. Given the landmark nature of the proposed legislation, we believe it is crucial that the gendered context of domestic abuse is recognised on the face of the Bill. Without this recognition the Bill cannot begin to fulfil the Government’s ambitions for it and achieve the transformative response required to combat the scourge of domestic abuse. (Paragraph 71)

20.We believe many of the objections to a gendered definition of domestic abuse come from concerns that it could exclude men from the protection of the Act. We recognise this concern but our evidence shows it is based on a misunderstanding of what a gendered definition means in practice. A gendered definition of abuse does not exclude men. Anyone can, sadly, suffer from domestic abuse just as anyone, regardless of gender, can perpetrate it. In recommending a gendered definition of domestic abuse we want to embed a nuanced approach to the most effective response to domestic abuse for all individuals who suffer such violence, and to ensure that public authorities understand the root causes of this complex crime. We also believe our recommendation on how a gendered definition should be drafted allows the courts to continue to judge the raft of cases they currently hear without any fear of perpetuating discrimination towards men and boys. Incorporating a gendered definition of domestic abuse ensures compliance with the requirements of the Istanbul Convention in demonstrating a gendered understanding of violence against women and domestic abuse as a basis for all measures to protect and support victims. (Paragraph 72)

21.We recommend the Government introduce a new clause into the draft Domestic Abuse Bill in the following, or very similar, terms: When applying Section 1 and 2 of this Act public authorities providing services must have regard to the gendered-nature of abuse and the intersectionality of other protected characteristics of service users in the provision of services, as required under existing equalities legislation. (Paragraph 73)

22.We recommend that the statutory guidance the Government is committed to issuing on the operation of the statutory definition of domestic abuse should require public authorities to acknowledge the disproportionate impact of domestic abuse on women and girls when developing strategies and policies in this area. We believe this will make the Bill the landmark legislation the Government intends and transform the way we as a country respond to the scourge of domestic abuse. We recommend draft guidance on the Bill be published at Second Reading and that all final guidance be published within six months of the day the Act comes into force. (Paragraph 74)

Policing

23.Given the Crime and Security Act 2010 states that violence or the threat of violence is required before a notice can be issued or an order granted, we can understand why both the police and the courts have found it difficult to decide whether certain types of abusive behaviour qualified the perpetrator for a Domestic Violence Protection Order or Notice. We welcome the explicit inclusion of abuse other than violence or the threat of violence and believe this removes a key weakness of the previous scheme. (Paragraph 82)

24.Domestic Abuse Protection Orders may be applied for without the victim’s consent by the police, specialist agencies and third parties with the consent of the court. We believe it is a key strength of the proposed orders that they can be made by the police without the victim’s consent: the nature of domestic abuse is such that pressure not to take action against the perpetrator will often be overwhelming and it would significantly weaken the protective effect of the orders if only victims were able to apply for them. We note the concerns about third parties being able to apply for orders and this potentially been subject to abuse by family members or others. We believe the fact that any such application is at the discretion of the court will prevent instances of abuse. (Paragraph 87)

25.We are concerned that the potentially indefinite nature of Domestic Abuse Protection Orders will result in the courts’ granting them less often than they grant time-limited Domestic Violence Protection Orders, meaning protection for victims will overall be reduced. (Paragraph 90)

26.We believe attaching positive requirements to Domestic Abuse Protection Orders has the potential to enhance the protection given to victims. The practicalities of the scheme, however, do not appear to have been thought through. Without funding for training or an infrastructure for monitoring compliance, use of positive requirements will be very limited or run the risk of making things worse as victims are forced to try and monitor their abusers’ compliance with the order themselves. The simple question which the draft Bill does not address is which organisation or organisations are to be responsible for the monitoring of positive requirements. Without this clarity, the provisions relating to this proposal may fail. The use of positive requirements also has legal implications for the utility of the order which we consider below. (Paragraph 102)

27.We are concerned at the potential for inconsistent approaches between the civil and criminal courts to applications for Domestic Abuse Protection Orders. We recommend that detailed guidance for applicants, defendants and the judiciary be introduced on the circumstances in which such protective orders are granted, with particular consideration given to the evidence required and the assessment of risk posed by the respondent to the applicant for the order. (Paragraph 108)

28.The Government’s insistence that the police pay a court fee to make an application for a Domestic Abuse Prevention Order, while victims do not, will undermine the entire scheme and end any chance of the orders becoming the ‘go-to’ order to protect victims of domestic abuse. Police officers will be put in the invidious position of having to choose to use scarce resources to make an application or persuading the victim to make the application themselves. This effectively removes a key strength of the order, that an application may be made without the victim’s involvement, or even consent. We strongly recommend that applications for Domestic Abuse Protection Orders be free to the police, with appropriate funding to HM Court and Tribunal Service. (Paragraph 113)

29.We welcome the Government’s ambition to improve the protection available to victims of domestic abuse. Strengths of the proposed scheme include explicitly broadening qualifying abusive behaviour beyond physical violence; not requiring the victim’s consent to the issuing of an application for an order but providing safeguards on who can make such applications; and, with significant caveats, the introduction of positive requirements. (Paragraph 114)

30.We accept the Government’s assurance that the proposed new order is compliant with our human rights obligations. We are very concerned, however, that the introduction of indefinite time limits, positive requirements and criminal sanctions combine to create such a burden on the perpetrator that the courts will be reluctant to impose the orders in all but the most exceptional of circumstances, meaning the draft Bill runs the danger of reducing the protection available to victims rather than increasing it. We note the limited use of occupation orders by the courts as a lesson the Government needs to consider before going forward with these proposals. Without learning such lessons DAPOs will not be able to fulfil the Government’s intention that they will be the ‘go to’ order in cases of domestic abuse. (Paragraph 115)

31.We recommend the Government carry out a thorough review of the protective measures currently available before going ahead with its proposals for the Domestic Abuse Protection Order. Following that review, we anticipate the Government will amend the current scheme both to tackle the flaws seen in the Domestic Violence Protection Order process and to ensure that the courts are not obliged to take a restrictive approach to imposing the new order. (Paragraph 116)

32.While that review is being undertaken, we recommend additional resources are allocated to the police specifically for training and application fees for Domestic Violence Protection Orders. (Paragraph 117)

33.The changes to the bail regime in the Policing and Crime Act 2017 were well-meaning. Unfortunately, the result has been that pre-charge bail is no longer an effective protective measure in domestic abuse cases. While there may be an issue with police training and guidance on the operation of the reforms, 28 days bail combined with a rigid test for any extension does not take into account the need to protect victims from perpetrators and allow the police time to do their job within the resources available. We recommend that the Government urgently bring forward legislation to increase the length of time suspects can be released on pre-charge bail in domestic abuse cases. We also recommend a rebalancing of the test for allowing extensions to pre-charge bail to give full weight to the protection of the victim from the risk of adverse behaviour by the suspect, thereby balancing the rights of the victim with those of the suspect. (Paragraph 128)

34.We recommend the Government amend the Policing and Crime Act 2017 to create a presumption that suspects under investigation for domestic abuse, sexual assault or other significant safeguarding issues only be released from police custody on bail, unless it is clearly not necessary for the protection of the victim. We consider this vital not only to protect victims but to give them confidence that their complaint is been taken seriously and that the criminal justice system will have regard to their welfare throughout any proceedings arising from their complaint. (Paragraph 131)

35.We endorse the Government’s decision to place the guidance to the police on the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS), also known as Clare’s law, on a statutory footing. We believe this will increase awareness of the DVDS among the general public and so those who could benefit from it. We acknowledge that the DVDS is only ever likely to be used by a small number of people, and there may be some risks involved for an individual making a ‘right to ask’ application, but we believe these can be reduced by a situation-sensitive approach by the police. Ultimately, the DVDS is only one small part of the wider state response to the challenge of tackling domestic violence. (Paragraph 142)

36.We note the criticisms of the police’s limited use of the ‘right to know’ powers they possess under the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS). We believe this will improve with the reforms to the guidance contained in the draft Bill. We also believe that it would increase with improved multi-agency working and we recommend further work is done in this area. We have taken evidence both in favour and against a register of offenders committing repeat domestic abuse offences, and propose this is an area which the Government should keep under review. (Paragraph 143)

Justice system

37.We welcome the proposal that complainants in criminal proceedings for an offence involving behaviour that amounts to domestic abuse will be automatically eligible for special measures. (Paragraph 152)

38.We recommend that this provision be extended to victims of domestic abuse appearing in family and other civil courts. We note the Government’s comment that this is already possible under family court rules but, given the persuasive evidence about poor implementation, we recommend that the provision for special measures in the family court’s rules and practice directions is put on a statutory basis, and that a single consistent approach is taken across all criminal and civil jurisdictions. This is particularly important given the Government’s plans for a reduced but improved court estate, which may provide an additional barrier to participation for vulnerable victims. (Paragraph 153)

39.Polygraph tests are considered to have assisted probation in monitoring the behaviour of sex offenders and the Government proposes to pilot their use with domestic abuse offenders. It must be absolutely clear that no statements or data from a polygraph test can be used in the criminal courts. This appears to be the effect of the draft Bill but care must be taken to ensure the results of testing are not used in court, and that testing does not become a substitute for careful risk analysis or for other evidence-based interventions with perpetrators. (Paragraph 159)

40.The proposal to prevent the perpetrators of domestic abuse themselves from cross-examining victims in the family courts is a welcome measure and warmly supported across the board. We are pleased that it is accompanied by publicly-funded representation for perpetrators of abuse where necessary in the interests of justice. (Paragraph 172)

41.However, we are concerned at the potential for inconsistency in application because too many victims of domestic abuse will be protected only at the discretion of the court. We recommend that the mandatory ban is extended so that it applies where there are other forms of evidence of domestic abuse, as in the legal aid regime threshold. (Paragraph 173)

42.Representing the voice of children and ensuring that decisions are made in their best interests is the primary responsibility of CAFCASS when providing reports to the Family Court under s.7 of the Children Act 1989. However, we are aware from evidence submitted to us together with wider research that there are ongoing and significant concerns that CAFCASS is not sufficiently representing the voices of children who do not wish to have contact with their parents where domestic abuse is a factor. We therefore consider that it is time for the Government to conduct a thorough review of how CAFCASS can improve its obligations in this regard. (Paragraph 175)

43.We have also heard that judges and magistrates are increasingly meeting children who are involved in cases face to face. We very much welcome this development and would like to encourage all those hearing cases about children’s welfare to consider hearing from children directly. (Paragraph 176)

44.Given the weight of case law that people cannot consent to violence against them that causes Grievous Bodily Harm, let alone death, we are surprised that prosecutors opted for the lesser charge in the case cited. We consider that the case does not and should not provide a precedent, and we therefore do not recommend any changes to the Bill. (Paragraph 178)

45.We recommend that the Government considers the proposal that a new clause be added to the Bill to create a statutory defence for women whose offending is driven by their experience of domestic abuse. (Paragraph 180)

46.The Government recognises that domestic abuse often occurs as a repeated pattern of behaviours, with some perpetrators abusing multiple partners over a number of years. As part of its non-legislative measures accompanying the Bill, it has set out ways in which it aims to improve and increase the use of perpetrator programmes to help stop reoffending. We decided to take evidence on this issue in order to examine whether there was also a need for legislative measures to support this provision. (Paragraph 182)

47.In recent years, the number of individuals given a court order to attend a perpetrator programme has been reducing and fewer perpetrators are successfully completing those programmes. There is also currently no incentive for the probation service to provide perpetrator programmes to offenders who do not receive a court order but might still benefit from the programme. HM Chief Inspector of Probation told us that this was because of systemic problems in the criminal justice system and in the delivery of probation services. (Paragraph 193)

48.Perpetrator interventions which succeed in bringing about significant changes in abusive behaviour must be tailored to the particular type of perpetrator if they are to achieve results, and can be expensive and time consuming. Increasing attendance on unsuitable programmes will not reduce the prevalence of domestic abuse. We heard that there is a need for a wider range of programmes, and for all programmes to be properly accredited and evaluated. (Paragraph 194)

49.The Government has responded to concerns about the probation service’s performance, and its delivery model. It must now ensure that those reforms support its ambition to increase the number of offenders successfully completing good quality perpetrator intervention programmes. In her evidence to us, HM Chief Inspector of Probation identified several factors which were contributing to the reducing number of perpetrators attending and completing suitable programmes. We recommend that the Government sets out how it plans to address those specific concerns. (Paragraph 195)

50.The Government must also ensure that there is sufficient provision of quality assured specialist interventions for the full spectrum of perpetrators, across all risk levels. This will require an adequate level of funding and cooperation with expert providers. We did not identify a need for additional legislation to support perpetrator programme measures. (Paragraph 196)

Refuges and support services

51.Currently there are too few places in refuges or supported housing and access to specialist services is limited. We welcome the Government’s announcement that it plans to introduce a statutory requirement in the Bill for accommodation support services in England to be provided for survivors of domestic abuse, and its commitment to provide an adequate level of additional funding to local authorities to enable them to comply with the new duty. (Paragraph 213)

52.Further work is required to clarify the precise details of this duty, but this welcome step will make a significant difference to the support received by survivors of domestic abuse across the country. We encourage the Government to work closely with refuge providers, local authorities and other stakeholders to ensure that future service provision meets anticipated needs including the inter-relationships between local accommodation-based systems, so that they form a national network. This will assist in ensuring full compatibility with the requirements of the Istanbul Convention in this regard. (Paragraph 214)

53.The Government needs to provide clarity on how non- accommodation based support services such as community-based advocacy and IDVA services and open access advice, helpline and counselling support services will be provided and funded under the new statutory duty proposed by MHCLG and what arrangements will be made for the national provision of highly specialist services. We recommend that the Government works closely with refuge providers, local authorities and other stakeholders to ensure that these essential services are included in future service commissioning plans in order to ensure full compliance with the Istanbul Convention in this regard. (Paragraph 230)

54.We also note the key role in supporting survivors that other parts of the public service, especially in the areas of health and education, need to play. The Government must ensure that survivors of domestic abuse and their children have full access to health and other essential public services and do not suffer any detriment when they are forced to move to new accommodation in a different area. Finding school places and ensuring that survivors of domestic abuse experience no disadvantage in quickly accessing physical and mental health services are vital. Those leaving their homes and communities to escape abuse are sorely in need of such support and should be treated on a par with other vulnerable groups, such as looked after children. (Paragraph 231)

Migrant women

55.The Bill includes no specific provisions concerning migrant women, but we have considered this issue because of concerns that in practice some migrant women would not be protected by the proposed measures in the Bill. (Paragraph 234)

56.Some women with insecure immigration status are faced with the choice of staying with a perpetrator of abuse or becoming homeless and destitute because they do not know how to get help or may not be entitled to support and may be at risk of detention and deportation. Because of this vulnerability, immigration status itself is used by perpetrators of domestic abuse as a means to coerce and control. (Paragraph 240)

57.Witnesses told us that migrant women experiencing domestic abuse were effectively excluded from the few protective measures contained in the Bill and that this was not compliant with the requirements of Article 4, paragraph 3 of the Istanbul Convention which requires protection to be provided without discrimination on any ground, including migrant and refugee status. (Paragraph 241)

58.The police service has a critical role in providing a first line of response to victims of abuse, particularly when there is a crisis. We know from our informal meetings with survivors of abuse that many of them do not know where else to turn in an emergency other than the police, especially when they live in rural areas, or when they need help at night. (Paragraph 248)

59.We are particularly concerned to hear evidence that some police forces share details of victims with the Home Office for the purposes of immigration control rather than helping the victim access appropriate support. We note that the NPCC updated its guidance in December 2018, to specify that when someone reports a crime, the police must always, first and foremost, treat them as a victim, and that police must never check a database only to establish a victim’s immigration status. However, it is clear that this guidance is not sufficient to prevent immigration authorities from taking enforcement action at a time when there is a duty on statutory authorities to ensure that victims of domestic abuse are provided with protection and support. (Paragraph 249)

60.We note the concerns that a statutory bar on sharing information could in some cases prevent the police from helping victims of abuse who are uncertain of their immigration status. We welcome the new NPCC guidance but doubt whether it will be sufficient to change long-standing bad practice. (Paragraph 250)

61.We recommend that a more robust Home Office policy is developed to determine the actions which may be taken by the immigration authorities with respect to victims of crime who have approached public authorities for protection and support. We support the recommendation of the Step Up Migrant Women campaign to establish a firewall at the levels of policy and practice to separate reporting of crime and access to support services from immigration control. (Paragraph 251)

62.The provisions barring individuals from having recourse to public funds can prevent some victims of domestic abuse with uncertain immigration status from accessing refuges and other support services. We recommend that Government explores ways to extend the temporary concessions available under the DVR and DDVC to support migrant survivors of abuse, to ensure that all of these vulnerable victims of crime can access protection and support whilst their application for indefinite leave to remain is considered by the Government. We recommend that the Government consult on the most effective criteria to ensure such a measure reaches the victims it is designed to support and that it should extend the three-month time limit to six months for the DDVC in the light of the specific difficulties for victims highlighted by Southall Black Sisters. We note that the Home Office already publishes guidance on the evidence of domestic violence which is required to support applications under the DVR, and we would expect these protocols to continue to be applied. (Paragraph 258)

63.We recommend the inclusion of an additional clause in the Bill, imposing on public authorities dealing with a victim or alleged victim of domestic abuse, or making decisions of a strategic nature about how to exercise functions, a duty to have due regard to the need to protect the rights of victims without discrimination on any of the grounds prohibited by Article 4, paragraph 3 of the Istanbul Convention. (Paragraph 259)

Other issues

64.We note the existence of divergence in legislation between England and Wales, and also the different agencies that operate in the two countries. We urge greater close co-operation between the UK and Welsh governments. (Paragraph 263)

65.Wales has placed its response to domestic abuse firmly into the context of its violence against women strategy. Welsh legislation has also focused on promoting multi-agency work and encouraging prevention. As yet there is little evidence about the effectiveness of this approach, but those engaged in it seemed optimistic, despite their caveats about funding difficulties. We are persuaded that developments such as the training programmes for public sector workers and the emphasis on the role of schools in prevention are valuable, and lessons learned should be incorporated into the approach to domestic abuse in England. This approach forms a key element of the approach of the Istanbul Convention contained in Chapter 3, particularly Article 13 which refers to the crucial role that education plays in this area. (Paragraph 268)

66.We welcome the introduction by the Government of mandatory relationship education for all school-aged children in England, and we see breaking the 18-year impasse on delivering this important support for all children as of fundamental importance in delivering the domestic abuse strategy., It is as an opportunity to break the intergenerational cycle of domestic abuse. It is vital that children of all ages be taught about domestic abuse in a sensitive and age-appropriate way, giving them the tools to recognise abuse, the confidence to report it and the ability to develop respectful relationships themselves. (Paragraph 274)

67.It is clear that there is still a great deal of work to be done in changing perceptions of what is normal and acceptable behaviour within relationships. We are aware of (often locally-funded) advertising campaigns to raise public awareness of the problem of domestic abuse. There have been similar, more widespread campaigns on issues such as modern day slavery, as well as the promotion of health messages on issues such as smoking. The cost of domestic abuse to the health service is high. We believe that a campaign to raise awareness and challenge behaviour should be undertaken; this could also provide pointers to where help may be sought and suspected instances reported. Such a campaign could be targetted particularly on online pornography sites. (Paragraph 275)

68.A key part of the Government’s strategy is to prevent domestic abuse and intervene early to stop abuse escalating. This part of the strategy is addressed through policies and is not covered in the draft Bill. We note that in Wales the statutory guidance on prevention, training and strategies is intended to incentivise widespread work on prevention throughout the public sector and to facilitate better multi-agency working and collaborative working with other specialist organisations. We urge the Government to consider how there might be greater consistency in approach across the UK, particularly in terms of the provision of public service early interventions and training for front-line staff in publicly funded services. (Paragraph 281)

69.We are very conscious of the need to involve a wide variety of government departments and other public sector organisations in promoting the prevention of and early intervention in domestic abuse. There will be a requirement for co-ordination with the devolved administrations. Delivery will require significant cultural change in a number of organisations, and this reinforces our conviction that the strategy should be led from the centre of government. We therefore recommend that a Cabinet Office Minister should lead on implementing the Government’s strategy to combat domestic abuse and to ensure full compliance with the Istanbul Convention. (Paragraph 282)

Domestic Abuse Commissioner

70.We understand that the Government wishes to make rapid progress in implementing its Domestic Abuse Strategy, but we were surprised to learn that the process of recruiting a designate Commissioner had almost been completed before Parliament had had any opportunity to consider—still less to recommend any changes to—the draft Bill setting out proposals for the Commissioner’s remit and powers and the governance arrangements for the Commissioner’s office. We understand from the Home Secretary that the process has been put on hold while we complete our scrutiny, but it appears that the designate Commissioner’s appointment will be made on the basis set out in December 2018. We consider this unsatisfactory. (Paragraph 287)

71.We have already stated our view that there needs to be greater integration of the legislation and policies relating to domestic abuse and violence against women and girls more generally. We recommend that this be reflected in the remit given to the Commissioner. (Paragraph 290)

72.Many of the issues raised in the course of our inquiry were considered by our witnesses to be matters for the Domestic Abuse Commissioner to address. They suggested widening the Commissioner’s remit and proposed comprehensive, detailed work in a number of specific areas. The Home Office clearly regards the role as one which issues guidance and reports compliance, and it has made provision for the Commissioner to be funded and for staff to be provided accordingly. However, those working in the field were firmly of the view that, if this role was to make a major contribution to combatting domestic abuse, the Commissioner would have to be more pro-active, would have to work across government and with multiple local partners, and would have to be able to hold public authorities to account for any failings. They therefore considered that the Commissioner’s role should be full-time and the budget and staffing for the Commissioner’s office should be larger. (Paragraph 320)

73.While we do not necessarily endorse every suggestion made to us about the work the Domestic Abuse Commissioner should do, we think that in practice the Commissioner’s office would have a greater quantity and wider range of and more in-depth work than the current funding and staffing arrangements would permit. We recommend that the role of Commissioner should be full time, and that, within a year of the designate Commissioner starting their role, they or, if then in place, the statutory Commissioner should publish an assessment of the financial and personnel resources required to carry out the role. (Paragraph 321)

74.As we have repeatedly emphasised, the Commissioner would need to work with multiple agencies, national and local, in areas such as healthcare, housing and education. While the draft Bill would require public authorities to reply to any recommendations addressed to them in a report by the Commissioner, it is silent about what would happen if the authorities failed to make the recommended changes to their practice. We were told that it was undesirable to confuse the role of commissioner with that of an inspector. We accept this, but we think it unacceptable that service providers might be able simply to ignore the Commissioner’s recommendations. The role of enforcing best practice properly lies with Ministers, but currently there is no duty on government departments to co-operate with the Commissioner. We recommend that Clause 13 of the Bill be amended to place this duty on government departments. This would give Ministers a clear mandate to ensure that public sector commissioners and providers change their behaviour. (Paragraph 322)

75.As far as the linked issues of independence and accountability are concerned, we have grave concerns about the proposal for the Commissioner’s role to be responsible to the Home Office. There is a potential for the Home Office to experience serious conflicts between its work in relation to domestic abuse and its responsibility for immigration control. This has led a number of our witnesses to question whether the Commissioner could really be independent when considering the needs of migrant women if answerable to the Home Office. They suggested that a Cabinet lead would enable a cross-departmental approach. This argument was supported by the former Anti-Slavery Commissioner’s assertion that his most effective cross-government work was done when he reported to the Cabinet Office rather than the Home Office. (Paragraph 323)

76.We recommend that the Commissioner be responsible to the Cabinet Office, to provide the Commissioner with extra authority in relation to the wide range of Ministers and government departments with which their office will have to engage. We also recommend a clear, direct accountability to Parliament, as an assurance of the Commissioner’s independence of government. Furthermore, the draft Bill should be amended to remove the requirement for the Commissioner to submit draft reports and advice to the Secretary of State and to obtain the approval of the Secretary of State for their annual strategic plan. The Commissioner should be given power to appoint staff independently, albeit on civil service terms and conditions. (Paragraph 324)

77.We recommend that the Commissioner be given the duty to consult with partners and agencies in Wales, and that the National Assembly of Wales be enabled to undertake appropriate scrutiny of how the Commissioner’s Office discharge their responsibilities. (Paragraph 325)

78.Overall we consider that there should be a complete review of the approach taken to establishing Commissioners offices. The inconsistency between Commissioner powers, functions and independence is arbitrary and undesirable. We strongly recommend the Government to adopt a more uniform approach to establishing a Commissioner role with independence built into each by using the Cabinet Office as the sponsor department. (Paragraph 326)





Published: 14 June 2019