January 27, 2020

The Domestic Abuse Bill – will it bring change?

Those working within the domestic abuse sector are waiting with baited breath to find out how and when the Domestic Abuse Bill will come into effect and are urging the Government to prioritize the Bill to ensure vulnerable victims are protected and, that those working with victims are given the tools necessary to assist. The hope is, that with the publicity of both what domestic abuse is and the assistance that those who are victims to it can get, they will be encouraged to speak out.

Those who watch Silent Witness will have seen the harrowing effects of domestic abuse (including, coercive control, emotional and physical abuse, financial control and sexual abuse) during the two-part story line last week; it has to be a very positive move by the show to bring into the forefront of viewers’ minds, the effects of domestic abuse on the victim directly and the children witnessing it.

While it is positive that viewers were shown the effects of domestic abuse and the different forms and prevalence of it, it must be viewed with caution, in relation to the portrayal of the Judge’s reaction to one of the character’s allegations of abuse. The show is of course a dramatization of events and must be shocking to keep the viewer’s attention, but victims watching the show thinking that they will be treated in a similar way by the courts should not worry.

In reality, victims of domestic abuse should not be deterred. In recent years the courts have had to become (quite rightly) alive to the issue of domestic abuse and the effects of it both on the child and on the parent who has care of the child. The courts are obliged at all times, especially in matters relating to children, to consider allegations of domestic abuse and the effect of that abuse on both the children and the parent with care of the child.

High levels of training in domestic abuse is now required of those making decisions in courts in relation to children where there are allegations of domestic abuse, as well as obligations on the courts to consider all the reports and professional input it needs before making decisions about the safety of children. There is an assumption that children should have a relationship with both parents, however that is never at the expense of their own safety or the safety of the parent with care. Special measures are available in the forms of screens in the court room, separate entrances and exits, reserved waiting areas and videolink evidence to help those who are victims feel safe. There is absolutely more work that needs to be done and it is hoped that the bringing in of the Domestic Abuse Bill will continue to pave the way in this regard.

Here is an article I wrote back in January of 2019 that looked at the draft of the Domestic Abuse Bill and the potential changes and improvements that were originally suggested.

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