Domestic abusers to be banned from cross-examining their victims in court

Domestic abuse victims will no longer face cross-examination by their abusers in family courts.

The change is part of a Government package to tackle domestic abuse and the draft Bill, published on Monday, aims to support victims and their families and pursue offenders, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said.

The new legislation will introduce the first statutory Government definition of domestic abuse to specifically include economic abuse and controlling and manipulative non-physical abuse.

It will also establish a domestic abuse commissioner to drive the response to domestic abuse issues and new domestic abuse protection notices and domestic abuse protection orders to further protect victims and place restrictions on the actions of offenders.

The legislation will prohibit the cross-examination of victims by their abusers in the family courts and provide automatic eligibility for special measures to support more victims to give evidence in the criminal courts, the MoJ said.

The Home Office has published a report into the economic and social cost of domestic abuse, which reveals the crime cost England and Wales £66 billion in 2016-17.

According to the research, the vast majority of this cost (£47 billion) was a result of the physical and emotional harm of domestic abuse but it also includes other factors such as cost to health services (£2.3 billion), police (£1.3 billion) and victim services (£724 million).

Prime Minister Theresa May said: “Throughout my political career I have worked to bring an end to domestic abuse and support survivors as they take the brave decision to leave their abuser and rebuild their lives.

“We know, from the harrowing experiences of victims and their families, that there is still more to do to stamp out this life-shattering crime and the Domestic Abuse Bill will lead the way in bringing about the changes we need to achieve this.”

Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability Victoria Atkins said: “I have heard absolutely heartbreaking accounts of victims whose lives have been ripped apart because of physical, emotional or economic abuse they have suffered by someone close to them.

“The draft domestic abuse Bill recognises the complex nature of these horrific crimes and puts the needs of victims and their families at the forefront.

“This Government is absolutely committed to shining a light on domestic abuse to ensure this hidden crime does not remain in the shadows.”

Justice Secretary David Gauke said: “Domestic abuse destroys lives and warrants some of the strongest measures at our disposal to deter offenders and protect victims.

“That is why we are barring abusers from cross-examining their victims in the family courts – a practice which can cause immense distress and amount to a continuation of abuse – and giving courts greater powers, including new protection orders, to tackle this hideous crime.”

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, responding to the Bill’s publication, said: “On average two women a week are killed by a current or former partner. Survivors of domestic violence have been made to wait too long for this Bill.

“If the Tories are serious about combating domestic violence, then there should be long term funding commitments to ensure sufficient resources are available for abuse survivors.”

Sandra Horley, chief executive of the charity Refuge, said: “Refuge welcomes the draft Bill announced by the Government today.

“Refuge staff deal with the human misery of domestic violence every day. The cost to women and children’s lives is devastating.

“But now the immense cost to the taxpayer has been laid bare, too. Domestic violence is truly everybody’s business.

“This Bill represents a once in a generation opportunity to address domestic violence but in order to do so we must ensure its aspirations are matched by adequate resource.

“We will continue to work closely with the Government to ensure the final Bill meets the needs of the women and children we support.”

Katie Ghose, chief executive of Women’s Aid, said: “That domestic abuse costs society £66 billion a year and the lives of on average two women a week in England and Wales should be a wake-up call for us all.

“Now is the time to bring it out into the spotlight and address the impact of domestic abuse properly once and for all.”

She added: “We look forward to working with the government, our member services and survivors themselves to make sure survivors have the resources and support they need, as well as address the root causes of domestic abuse so that every woman and child can live free from fear and abuse.”

Ms Ghose said the domestic abuse bill has the potential to create “a step change in the national response, to create a more effective approach to tackling domestic abuse; sustainable funding for our life-saving network of specialist support services must be at the centre of this if we are to make a real difference to survivors’ lives”.

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