Laws to protect domestic abuse victims ‘nowhere near perfect’, campaigners say

By Flora Thompson, PA Home Affairs Correspondent

Laws proposed to protect victims of domestic abuse are “nowhere near perfect” and are missing key elements which would guarantee “vital” support and funding, campaigners have said.

The Domestic Abuse Bill was among those brought to a halt when Prime Minister Boris Johnson decided to prorogue Parliament.

The Government said a fresh version of the proposed legislation was expected to be highlighted in a Queen’s speech to mark a new Parliamentary session.

But because prorogation was deemed unlawful by the Supreme Court, this will no longer take place as Parliament has resumed, meaning discussions on the original Bill continue to progress.

It has its second reading in the House of Commons on Wednesday afternoon, which is the first opportunity for MPs to debate the proposals.

Charity Women’s Aid told the PA news agency it welcomes the progress being made on the Bill after a series of delays but it remains concerned over key provisions missing from the current proposals and said it would only be successful if it is underpinned by “substantial funding” for services.

Lucy Hadley, the charity’s campaigns & public affairs manager, said: “This landmark legislation is an opportunity to transform the response to domestic abuse but has been subject to delay after delay.

“At a time of significant political turmoil it is vital that the protection and support of survivors is a priority within Parliament.”

She said the Bill “fails to recognise that currently just one in five victims of domestic abuse report to the police” and change was needed “across the public sector” not only in the justice system as proposed but also in the housing and welfare systems.

“The law also leaves behind some of the most vulnerable women with insecure immigration status, who are often barred from accessing help and support”, she said, adding that that the charity “urges MPs to strengthen the Bill with improved protection and support for all survivors and their children.”

Sandra Horley, chief executive of the charity Refuge, said statutory funding was “essential” and the Bill had the potential to “transform” the response to domestic abuse but needs to go further to be effective.

She added: “Statutory funding for refuges is essential.

“Women must be able to flee their violent partners and find safety.

“The Bill must ensure that domestic abuse survivors are in priority need for housing, and must end the ‘postcode lottery’ of support so everyone, regardless of their immigration status, is able to reach safety and access the help they need.”

Labour MP Harriet Harman, the chairman of the Commons human rights committee, echoed concerns about missing elements of the Bill.

She said in a tweet: “Domestic Abuse Bill in Commons today.

“But does not include what govt promised in May – duty on councils to provide & duty on govt to fund refuges.

“If govt don’t put duties in Bill, MPs working cross-party will.”

While fellow Labour MP Jess Phillips said on Twitter: “Looking forward today to the Domestic Abuse Bill, it’s no where (sic) near perfect yet and there is still much work to be done but today it will climb up the next rung of the ladder.

“To all those who have lived or live with the tyranny I hope you feel heard today.”

On average two women every week are killed by their former or current partner across England and Wales.

The number of domestic violence killings has hit a five-year high, according to figures which emerged last month.

At the time the country’s first domestic abuse commissioner Nicole Jacobs moved to reassure campaigners that new legislation to protect victims was not expected to be diluted when it was due to be brought back to Parliament.

On Wednesday Ms Jacobs told PA she was pleased the Bill is continuing through Parliament adding that the second reading gives MPs “time for debate and to consider ways that the Bill should be improved” and there could be “more specific amendments” when the proposals move to the next stage.

She reiterated hopes that statutory duties to fund specialist services as well as support for migrant women would also be included in the Bill.

She previously said there was much commitment to the Bill from all parties and sectors and there was hope additional amendments would be tabled, adding: “I think people appreciated there was a bit more work to be done on the Bill.”

Ms Jacobs took on the role of domestic abuse commissioner after being the chief executive of charity Standing Together Against Domestic Violence.

The independent Office of Domestic Abuse Commissioner will be made a statutory body and publish reports on its findings.

It is expected to be set up with a full-time team of staff within the coming months.

A Government spokesman said: “In May, we launched a consultation on a new legal duty for councils to provide life-saving refuge support services for domestic abuse survivors and their children, and will ensure councils have the funding to provide this.

“We are aware of the concerns around the support available to migrant victims of domestic abuse. In May, we hosted a roundtable to discuss this issue further and we are currently carrying out a review into the Government’s overall response to migrant victims of domestic abuse.”