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Despite efforts to raise awareness in recent years, deaths as a result of domestic violence are at a 5 year high in the UK. From 141 cases recorded in 2017, there is now 170+ death cases—undeniably the highest rate in the last 5 years in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
What is domestic abuse?
Domestic abuse is defined as an incident of coercive controlling, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour. It often includes sexual violence, in the majority of cases by a partner or ex-partner, but also by a family member, or carer. In the vast majority of cases, it is experienced by women and is perpetrated by men—but it can also happen the other way around. Approximately a quarter of the recorded cases were from male victims. Domestic violence in the UK is a criminal offence.
The Domestic Abuse Bill among other measures includes a legal duty on councils to offer secure housing for victims of domestic abuse who are fleeing their abusers. It also proposed the following:
- the first government definition of abuse;
- the creation of a Domestic Abuse Commissioner; and
- the creation of Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders to allow the police and courts to intervene when there suspicions of abuse.
There have been criticisms during the first reading of the bill that there has been too much emphasis on legislation—and just not enough efforts to improve the resources and co-ordination of police forces, health services, education, and social services.
There also been concerns that existing measures such as non-molestation orders are not being enforced sufficiently to provide adequate protection to victims and their children.
Despite the criticisms and concerns, campaigners have supported the introduction of the Domestic Abuse Bill, formerly known as the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme or Clare’s Law (after the landmark case that led to it).