Domestic Abuse Bill reaches House of Commons committee stage

by Maisie Marston

When the Prime Minister acted to prorogue Parliament, the Domestic Abuse Bill was among some bills which were automatically dropped, and its future depended on the Government’s agenda for the next parliamentary session. However, after the prorogation was overturned in a judgement by the Supreme Court, the Bill was reinstated, and has now reached the House of Commons committee stage.

The legislation, first introduced by the Government on July 17 2019, has been an ongoing project for three years as a collaboration between victims, organisations and parliamentarians.

Jess Phillips MP, a champion of the Bill and former Women’s Aid worker, has described it as a ‘rare bird’ due to its cross-party support. At its second reading, the legislation was passed unanimously, and MPs agreed to carry over the Bill to the next session of Parliament.

Every year it is believed that around two million people in England and Wales are victims of domestic abuse, of which two-thirds are women.

Recent measures have seen local authority spending on refugees fall and charities believe there are a lack of services in many places so victims of abuse are turned away. In order to tackle this problem, the Bill will aim to raise awareness of the issue, improve the effectiveness of the justice system so it provides protection for victims and brings perpetrators to justice, and enhance the support available for victims of abuse by statutory agencies.

Measures will include establishing a Domestic Abuse Commissioner, and provisions for new Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders which will ban abusers cross-examining victims in the family courts.

In addition, a first government definition of domestic abuse will be established to include financial abuse and non-physical controlling and manipulative behaviour.

During the debate, an emotional speech was delivered by Canterbury MP Rosie Duffield, who added her personal experiences of coercive control. The Labour MP described “constant hurt” in an “emotionally exhausting” relationship. Her speech also challenged the traditional understanding of domestic abuse, saying that “domestic violence has many faces” and that “sometimes there are no bruises,” blaming TV portrayals for misleading perceptions.

House of Commons speaker John Bercow thanked Duffield for sharing her experiences, saying they were “simultaneously as horrifying and moving a contribution in the chamber as [he has] heard in 22 years membership of the House”.

In her first speech from the backbenches since 1998, Theresa May added that the Bill was a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to make sure we take a step change in the approach we take to supporting victims and to dealing with domestic abuse.” Introducing the Domestic Abuse Bill was originally a commitment made in her party’s 2017 election manifesto, with a draft bill announced in 2017 Queen’s speech.

The Bill has now progressed onto the committee stage of the House of Commons, where it will be considered in close detail and may be subject to rewording or amendments.

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