The Draft Domestic Abuse Bill was unveiled at the start of this week and was welcomed by many from Domestic Abuse charities to Family Law Practitioners.
So what is going to change?
The Government have made a lot of promises about tackling domestic abuse and, if passed, the Domestic Abuse Bill will go a long way in addressing these. It makes provision for the establishment of a Domestic Abuse Commissioner who will be responsible for overseeing policy and practice on the prevention and prosecution of domestic abuse. It also provides Police with new powers when dealing with domestic abuse offenders.
The Bill sets out a new wider statutory definition of Domestic Abuse which includes not only physical and sexual abuse or violence but also controlling and coercive behaviour and financial abuse. This is not dissimilar from the non-statutory definition in Practice Direction 12J Child arrangements and contact orders: domestic abuse and harm which many of us working in the family courts are already familiar with. However the definition of economic abuse is surely a helpful inclusion in the development of statutory understanding of domestic abuse.
For me, as I imagine for most Family Law Practitioners, the most significant proposed change to the family court process is the prohibition of victims or alleged victims being cross examined by their abuser. The draft Bill provides for Courts to appoint legal representatives to undertake the cross examination of alleged victims if it is satisfied there is no other alternative. The cost of this will be funded by the State. If passed into legislation, this will go a long way to easing some of the anxieties victims feel when involved in family court proceedings and which may have, in the past, prevented some victims from pursuing matters.
The draft Bill will now undergo pre-legislative scrutiny before being finally placed before Parliament. I, like many working within this field, will be watching in eager anticipation of the New Legislation.