Domestic abuse figures, consultation and voting: The last week in family law

Women’s Aid, the charity working to ensure women’s safety from domestic violence, has published a report looking at service provision and the needs of women and children who are victims of domestic abuse. Amongst other things, the report found that only 28% of women using community-based services, such as drop-in services and counselling support, reported domestic abuse to the police, while 43.7% who use refuges reported. Further to this, of those who reported, only 13.2% of the community-based service users and 17% of the women resident in refuge services said that there had been a criminal case or criminal sanctions taken against the perpetrator. Commenting on the figures the Chief Executive of Women’s Aid Katie Ghose said: “Our new findings show that very few women experiencing domestic abuse see any criminal justice outcomes in their cases and have limited involvement with the police, but they do access lifesaving support from specialist services. That’s why refuges and community-based support services are vital for survivors to be able to get the help they need, when and where they need it. These life-saving services are not an optional extra but an essential piece of the jigsaw in our response to domestic abuse.”

Still on the subject of domestic abuse, the Government has launched its consultation seeking views on measures to be included in a draft Domestic Abuse Bill. Amongst the measures that the Government proposes are new Domestic Abuse Protection Orders, intended to better shield victims against further abuse by enabling courts to impose a range of conditions on abusers, such as compulsory alcohol treatment, attending a programme to address their underlying attitudes or addictions, and using electronic tagging to monitor them. Further, economic abuse will be recognised for the first time as a type of domestic abuse, covering controlling circumstances in which victims have finances withheld, are denied access to employment or transport, or are forced to take out loans and enter into other financial contracts. Prime Minister Theresa May commented: “This year we celebrated the centenary of achieving votes for women in this country, and today we recognise International Women’s Day. But while we have made great strides towards equality and opportunities for women, the fact there are still thousands of people suffering from domestic abuse shows how much work we still have to do. Domestic abuse takes many forms, from physical and sexual abuse, to controlling and coercive behaviour that isolates victims from their families and has long-term, shattering impacts on their children. The consultation we are launching today includes a number of proposals which have the potential to completely transform the way we tackle domestic abuse, providing better protection to victims and bringing more perpetrators to justice.” The consultation closes on the 31st of May.

Meanwhile, changes have come into effect making it easier for the estimated 12,000 survivors of domestic abuse living in refuges to register to vote anonymously. They will now be able to register to vote without their name and address appearing on the electoral roll, and without the fear of their former partners finding their address. Katie Ghose of Women’s Aid, commented: “For too long survivors of domestic abuse have been silenced because it was too dangerous for them to sign up to an electoral register, which would reveal their location, and too difficult for them to register anonymously. For them anonymity is a matter of life or death; with the very real threat of being hunted down by the perpetrator. Following our Right to Vote campaign in partnership with survivor Mehala Osborne, we have worked with the government to bring about decisive action on this issue. We’re delighted that on the 100th anniversary of the first British women securing the right to vote, the government will be making it easier for survivors to vote in safety.”

And finally, moving away from the issue of domestic abuse, the government has at last launched its post-implementation review of the changes made to legal aid by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (‘LASPO’). Amongst those changes LASPO abolished legal aid for most private law family matters, such as disputes between parents over arrangements for children, and financial remedy claims on divorce. The aim of the review will be to assess the extent to which the objectives of the LASPO changes were achieved. The Ministry of Justice also says that since LASPO there have been significant developments in the justice system, including the processes through which people can access legal advice. The government therefore also plans to use this opportunity to inform its wider consideration on the future of legal support in the justice system.