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Northumbria PCC Consultation on the Proposed Domestic Violence & Abuse Bill

17th July 2017

Overview: A summary of the responses received as a result of the PCC’s consultation on the proposed Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill. This summary includes the views and recommendations for the Government of local consultees.


The Northumbria PCC understands that the main benefits of the proposed Domestic Violence & Abuse Bill will be:

  • To protect victims of domestic violence and abuse.
  • To give the justice system greater guidance and clarity about the devastating impact of domestic violence and abuse on families

Local Support for the Current, Known Proposals

The Northumbria PCC understands that the main elements of the proposed bill are likely to include the following:

  1. To establish a Domestic Violence and Abuse Commissioner – Local consultation supported this measure and sought to draw the government’s attention to the report sEverywoman Safe Everywhere: Labour’s commission on Women’s Safety’ published in 2012 and ‘Labour: Placing Women’s Safety Centre Stage published in 2014. There was also a recognised need to ensure that the likely (and much needed) role of this commissioner in enforcing minimum standards of service provision would require additional local authority funding for essential services such as refuges
  2. To define domestic abuse in law – Local consultation supported this measure and recommended, in particular, that the definition be made to focus on the gender-based nature of domestic abuse and to clarify the different forms of familial abuse that are gender-based (e.g. the honor-based abuse of women because they are women) and those that are not (e.g. an assault involving two siblings). This was felt to be important in terms of both the measurement of these different social issues and in terms of ensuring that they are addressed appropriately by the police and other agencies.  The response of a homelessness service to a woman fleeing domestic abuse, for example, will need to be very different to their response to a brother who has been assaulted by another brother, but labelling both as ‘domestic abuse’ does little to support a more nuanced, needs-led approach.
  3. Address Adolescent to Parent Violence & Abuse (APVA) – a growing area of practice and concern, local services were somewhat divided on whether the current definition should be extended still further to encompass this form of abuse, but they were in agreement that further thought needed to be given to this issue and to further guidance on how best to safeguard family members when a child (adolescent or adult) was abusing a parent.
  4. To create a consolidated new domestic abuse civil prevention and protection order regime – Local consultation supported this measure and recommended that any such regime include the provision for relevant third parties to apply for an order, without the leave of the court, in order to protect a victim who is too fearful and/or subject to coercive control to do this for themselves. Similar to the FMPOs introduced by the Forced Marriage Civil Protection Act (2007) such a measure could be particularly useful in the arena of safeguarding adults where the apparent capacity of the victim can discourage professionals from intervening effectively.
  5. The creation of extra-territorial jurisdiction for offences committed by British Citizens overseas – Local consultation supported this measure and recognised its centrality to the UK ratification of the Istanbul Convention and to the effective investigation, prosecution and conviction of honour based abuse.
  6. Harsher sentencing for those whose abusive behaviour involves a child – Local consultees were aware of the data that indicates that at least 20% of children will witness domestic abuse before the age of 18 and that domestic abuse is cited as a contributory factor in more than half of serious case reviews. They therefore strongly supported this measure and recommended that a child’s need for protection become a required consideration in the development of pre-charge and court imposed bail conditions, the development of court-imposed restraining orders and in the sentencing of domestic abuse offenders.
  7. Ensure more stringent consequences for perpetrators of domestic abuse in the family court system – local consultees were strongly of the opinion that the place where domestic abusers were most likely to evade punishment or accountability for their actions was the family court system and were particularly concerned that staffing and other pressures on the family court system were having a significant impact on the observance of Practice Direction 12J (Child Arrangements and Contact Orders: Domestic Violence And Harm). The Northumbria PCC would therefore:
    1. Support the proposed use of the Courts Bill to ensure that a court appointed representative is required to undertake the cross-examination of any/all domestic violence victims in family court proceedings involving unrepresented parties
    2. Advocate that all of the special measures extended to vulnerable and intimidated witnesses as a right in the criminal justice system should be extended to victims of domestic abuse in the family law system
    3. Recommend a formal review of the current use of Practice Direction 12J (Child Arrangements and Contact Orders: Domestic Violence And Harm) in the Family Court System and the impact of wider organisational changes on its observance

Further Proposals from Our Local Specialist Services

Local consultation with specialist service providers also highlighted the following, additional recommendations:

  1. Progress the implementation of a Civil Stalking Protection Order – local specialist services contributed to the government consultation on Stalking Protection Orders in January 2016 and support the recent decision to further this measure via a Private Members Bill in early 2018. They are also hopeful that such work will help to better address the issue of on-line stalking and harassment and the need for earlier interventions and tougher responses
  2. Eliminate the use of Police Information Notices (PINs) to address allegations of stalking and harassment – Local services support the HMIC in their conclusion that such notices are an ineffective and inappropriate response to the investigation of stalking and harassment offences and to the safeguarding needs of victims. They support the prohibition of their use as soon as is reasonably possible
  3. Address the inappropriate use of Postal Requisition Charging Arrangements for domestic abuse offences – the new bail arrangements introduced earlier this year, combined with the impact of the necessity test, appear to be resulting in fewer DA perpetrators being arrested and bailed and a greater number being handled via voluntary attendance and postal requisition procedures.  The impact of such changes on the safety of the victim, and the behaviour of the offender, will need further exploration but local consultees noted considerable time delays in getting cases to court, the absence of any bail conditions to safeguard the victim whilst these cases comes to court and the impression created that the police are not taking the offence too seriously.  These would seem to provide sufficient reason to curtail the use of postal requisitions in all DA cases, perhaps through the development of formal MOJ guidance.
  4. Strengthen the court response to breaches of bail conditions, restraining orders, non-molestation orders etc. – repeated failure to comply with conditions imposed by the police or the courts, particularly where further acts of intimidation and/or violence are involved, should be treated seriously by the courts. However, local specialist services have highlighted the extent to which perpetrators of DA are being brought to court to answer to breached conditions only to be issued with the same conditions and released.  The PCC would therefore recommend the introduction of a mandatory minimum custodial sentence for those perpetrators of domestic abuse who repeatedly breach the bail conditions and/or restraining orders imposed as a means of managing their abusive behaviour.
  5. Extend the length of DVPOs and make the breach of such orders a criminal offence – local consultees were clear that the breach of a DVPO should be made a criminal offence and, given that these orders have been identified as one way of addressing the apparent reduction in pre-charge bail conditions for DA offenders, their length should be extended to match the likely delay in trial arrangements (i.e. 3-6 months).
  6. Develop expert in-court support for victims of domestic abuse – local voluntary sector IDVA services are struggling with high caseloads which often involve a range of support needs of which court support is just one. Local witness support services often lack the expertise, and court access, to support victims of domestic abuse to understand, engage with and demand support from the wider criminal justice system.  What is required, therefore, is a cohort of court-based assertive advocacy that is linked to the specialist domestic violence courts and funded by HMCTS.
  7. Address the low level of coercive control charges and convictions – A number of issues were identified under this heading including the need for further coercive control training. This need was seen to extend across the criminal justice system and to include both awareness training (on the nature/impact of coercive control) and skills-based training on the evidential and investigative requirements of these complex, ‘course of conduct’ offences.  The PCC would also recommend that coercive control is added to the schedule of offences for which there can be an ‘unduly lenient sentence’ application.
  8. Work with other agencies to understand and meet evidential needs – there are a range of services working with victims of domestic abuse (refuge providers, outreach providers, housing officers, family support workers etc.) who may be well placed to support the police in evidencing coercive control and reducing their reliance on the victim as a sole/primary witness. Such work forms one element of the Northumbria-led PTF bid for a ‘Whole System Approach to DA’ but could be further supported through COP guidance etc.
  9. Ensure a full roll out of BWV in all forces – as such evidence reduces the reliance of the CJS on the evidence of the victim and can, when present, encourage an early guilty plea.
  10. Tackle the high level of ‘no-criming’ and NFA decision making in DA cases – through enhanced training and the required introduction of domestic abuse scrutiny panels or similar
  11. Consider the need for a separate DA Code or DA Victim’s Charter – that fully outlines the standards that all forces and CJS agencies are expected to meet
  12. Ensure that police and partner services fully understand the support needs of male/trans victims of DA
  13. Specific GPS tagging Systems for DA and Stalking Perpetrators – Tagging systems that alert the victim when an ex-partner comes within a certain range should be introduced for high risk perpetrators of domestic abuse in the context of bail, remand, sentencing and prison release.