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The Public Bill Committee will scrutinise the Domestic Abuse Bill by 25th June 2020

The Domestic Abuse Bill is being scrutinised by the Public Bill Committee until 25th June 2020 before going to the Lords - help Parliament to get it right!

The Domestic Abuse Bill is surrently being looked at line-by-line by a group of MPs - the Public Bill Committee, formed to scrutinise the draft Bill. We too have been through the entire Bill and outline below some of our concerns about it. Once this stage is complete, expected to be by 25th June 2020, the Bill will then be voted on before going to The House of Lords. Finally it will return to the House of Commons and be made into law. It is not too late to influence the Bill and below we suggest how you can do that. We have already provided our detailed written submission to the Public Bill Committee and will share that with you once it is officially published.

What does the Domestic Abuse Bill Seek to Do?
The Bill aims to provide protection to anyone who is deemed to be at risk of domestic abuse by giving the police new powers to issue a new type of injunction called a Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Orders (DAPNs and DAPOs) that prevents the person served with it from doing certain things such as contacting an ex-partner. Little more than a complaint would be needed by the person seeking a DAPN so that immediate protection might be offered. Within 48 hours, it would be necessary for the case to be heard by a magistrate or judge who would then decide whether to issue a DAPO for a certain period of time. Failure to comply would be a criminal offence with the possibility of a fine and/or imprisonment. The definition of domestic abuse under this bill includes coercive control and economic abuse as well as other acts of violence. In may ways, the powers are similar to those of Non-Molestation Orders (NMOs), but can be issued by the police rather than by an individual's application to a family court. They will also be able to be used as a route to legal aid in family proceedings for anyone also qualifying on financial grounds.

Philip Davies MP's Amendments

In summary Philip Davies MP proposes amedments to:

  • explicitly include the making of false allegations into an offence
  • include parental alienation as an offence
  • the denial of contact with a child without a good reason
  • to make clearer what constitutes economic abuse
  • to ensure that domestic abuse is treated in a gender-neutral way, recognising that it can affect anyone (and over a ;third of victims are men according to Ministry of Justice data)

We believe all theses amendments are important. When MPs debated in Parliament the second reading of the Domestic Abuse Bill on 28th April, Philip Davies MP spoke what many of you will have been thinking, saying:

"Another amendment I will be tabling would extend the definition of domestic abuse to include Parental Alienation. This is where one parent deliberately alienates the other parent from a child. I have heard horrific stories affecting parents and children..." adding "I also want to amend the Bill so that false allegations of domestic abuse would be classed as domestic abuse in their own right. Some parents have their reputations and lives trashed by malicious, vexatious accusations, particularly in relation to domestic abuse. By including false allegations of domestic abuse in the definition of domestic abuse, we can hopefully reduce the instances of this occurring." You can watch him speaking by clicking here

We already wrote to thank him for his valuable contribution to the debate and raising these issues. If you want to have a look at the most updated list of amendments including the ones proposed by Philip Davies, you can do it here.

Other concerns with the Bill

  • Just as with NMOs these new powers require the court to only be satisfied that someone deserves protection 'on the balance of probabilities'. In other words, it could be that havingp heard both parties a judge may decide to make an order on the basis of apparent credibility of witnesses with the decision made by just a few percentage points or just 51% to 49%.
    Given the major impact in restricting access to children that such orders would have and their use to obtain legal aid in family courts, along with NMOs, these orders will further erode Article 6 rights to a fair trial. Guild is likely to be conferred on someone on the basis of a brief hearing on a low threshold of proof.
  • It is likely that the word 'victim' and 'perpetrator' will be used in relation to parties involved, usually without the use of the word 'alleged'. Given the low thresholds of evidence required there is a real risk of innocent paties who are victims of false allegations being further victimised.
  • Domestic abuse often takes place in the context of mutually abusive relationships where there is not one party that is a 'perpetrator' and another a 'victim'. Sometimes relationships only become abusive when in the process of splitting up when jealousy, hurt and fear dominate emotional responses. We think it thesee situations, the Bill must identify  the need for proportionate responses, including the making of mutual DAPOs so both parties can have the benefit of protection.
  • The Bill seeks to create a Domestic Abuse Commissioner, guided by an Advisory Panel. The current draft does not require that to include separate representatives of organisatios that support men, organisations that deal with false allegations or whose focus is on the welfare of children. The same applies in proposals for similar bodies to advise Local Authorities (council staff).
  •  Whilst it is desirable that DAPNs are converted to DAPOs qickly by going before a magistrate, 48 hours (exclusing weekends and Bank Holidays) seems inadequate to allow accused parties to prepare and find suitable support. NMOs give up to two weeks and this seems more appropriate.
  • The Bill suggests that applications to vary or revoke DAPOs need to return to the court that made the order. We think it should include any higher family court so that an application can be made within existing family proceedings where judges have more information and evidence before them and can prioritise the interests of children.

In the context of Family courts already rarely exercise their powers to enforce their own orders (less than 1% of enforcements result in an order), this is a further very serious risk. Our overarching concerns are therefore that, as currently framed, the Bill despearately requires balancing measures to prevent the abuse of the powers it seeks to create in a way that harms children of separated parents and falsely accused parties.

 

ACTION - What you can do

The issues identified need to be recognised and addressed. Please contact your MPs to urge them to back Philip Davies MP's amendments and ask them to consider some of the other points we raise above using your own examples. MPs tend to pay much more attention to their constituents' stories than to general letters of support for campaigns by organisations. You should ask your MP to make representations to Alex Cloke MP, the minister responsible for progressing this Bill. Here are members of the House of Commons Public Bill Committee on the Domestic Abuse Bill. If one of these MPs is your MP, that's even better.

If you don't know who your MP is, you can find out by visiting the following link.

Below is an example of a clear and effective letter to an MP:

If you wish, feel free to share with us privately the letter you send along with reply you receive to admin@fnf.org.uk with 'Domestic Abuse Bill' in the subject header.

  

 

 

 

 

 

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