Today marks the 10th anniversary of the Istanbul Convention which is currently the most comprehensive legal framework that covers all forms of violence against women and girls including; domestic abuse, rape, sexual assault, and other harmful practices like female genital mutilation (FGM), so-called honour-based violence, and forced marriage.
Eight years after signing it, the UK is yet to ratify as the convention sets minimum standards for governments to meet, and governments who ratify are bound by law to follow these standards. Although signing was a declaration of the government’s intent to comply with the provisions of the convention, without ratification, there is no legally binding obligation to do so.
We are therefore delighted that the Domestic Abuse Bill 2020 which takes us a step closer towards adhering to some of these standards passed both Houses of Parliament and was signed into law on the 29th of April this year. This means that it is now the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, that includes the following provisions:
- Implement a statutory definition of domestic abuse that recognises all types of domestic abuse including…, lower the age limit from 18 to 16 and recognise children who witness domestic abuse as victims in their own right.
- Establish the office of Domestic Abuse Commissioner and set out the Commissioner’s functions and powers.
- Stop perpetrators of abuse from cross-examining their victims in person in the civil and family courts in England and Wales.
- Create a statutory presumption that victims of domestic abuse are eligible for special measures in the criminal, civil and family courts.
- Clarify by law that a person may not consent to the infliction of serious harm for example in cases of non-fatal strangulation, and by extension, is unable to consent to their own death.
- Provide that all eligible homeless victims of domestic abuse automatically have ‘priority need’ for homelessness assistance.
You can read more about the Act in its entirety here.
We would like to take a moment to thank all the organisations and campaigners in the women’s sector who worked tirelessly to get us here. From the very beginning of this process we were very adamant about the need for a Domestic Abuse Bill that protects everyone. In particular we called for:
- A bill that adheres to the legal framework for the Istanbul Convention.
- A bill that improves protection and support for Young People and Children who are impacted by Domestic Violence.
- A bill that improves protection for migrant victims with No Recourse to Public Funds so that they can access domestic abuse services.
- A bill that provides longer term financial support for Domestic Abuse services.
We are happy to note that the provisions as outlined above, offer better protection for children and young people. However, we are disappointed that none of the other concerns were addressed. Not only was there no commitment to longer term funding for domestic abuse services, there was also a missed opportunity to ensure better protection for migrant women who have no recourse to public funds. We welcome initiatives like the ‘Support for Migrant Victims’ (SMV) pilot scheme, but we maintain that there is a wider need for the immigration status of migrant victims of domestic abuse, to be disconnected from their need for support, so that they can be treated as victims first when they find the courage to disclose and ask for help.
While we hope that at the earliest opportunity, the government will try to address some of these crucial concerns that were omitted, we welcome this as a positive start and look forward to working with Local Authorities to ensure that the provisions of the bill are met. Local Authorities must also make a commitment to work closely with specialist providers, to ensure that sufficient resources are in place, that safe practices are embedded throughout the delivery of support services; from legal services, right through to the housing sectors, and that sufficient training will be provided where required.
We will continue to do our bit as an organisation to ensure that the needs of women and children are amplified so they know that they are not alone, that they do not have to suffer in silence, that support services like those we offer are accessible to them, and that meeting those needs with a sense of urgency is at the heart of everything we do. We remain committed to our values to provide safe, high quality support in an environment of dignity and respect, to listen and respond with understanding and compassion and to act with responsibility and diligence.
For more information, please contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org