The draft ‘Domestic Abuse Bill’ has been published this month and is awaiting introduction to Parliament. The Government has hailed this severely delayed draft bill as ‘landmark’ following a lengthy open consultation process, stemming back to 2017.
The purpose of the bill is said to provide a single piece of legislation designed to identify and respond to domestic violence. The draft bill proposes widespread measures which can be broadly condensed into nine new measures.
Some of the measures will see alleged offenders being prohibited from cross-examining complainants in person during family court proceedings and the introduction of polygraph testing (‘lie detectors’) for high-risk offenders.
These polygraph tests would form part of licensing conditions for offenders on their release from custody and follows a similar introduction for serious sex offenders (serving custodial sentences of longer than 12-months). The Government has claimed that such tests will allow probation officers to examine whether offenders are truly adhering to their licence conditions.
One of the new measures which has particularly caught the media spotlight is the proposal to introduce a new statutory definition for domestic abuse. This new definition would seek to include ‘economic abuse’ and certain ‘non-physical’ behaviour of a coercive nature. For example, anyone found preventing someone from working or denying them access to their own bank account would likely fall foul of this new definition.
Finally, the proposed definition also looks to expand the scope of potential perpetrators from intimate and co-habiting relationships, to also include family members. This would see the proposed Domestic Abuse bill follow similar ‘controlling or coercive behaviour’ offences under the Serious Crime Act 2015.
Although such measures have been praised as long overdue, many commentators simply state that the measures do not go far enough and question whether there is enough funding available to effectively deliver the proposed legislation. It is also worth asking whether the use of lie-detectors is a fair or reliable tool to measure the risk of re-offending, as they are not admissible or permitted to be used in our criminal courts.
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