A draft bill which would make domestic abuse a defined offence for the first time has attracted widespread support from MPs.
Currently, domestic abusers can only be prosecuted for specific offences such as assault or rape, a restriction which means patterns of behaviour over a period of time are rarely taken into account when sentencing.
The proposed new law was sponsored by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Stalking and Harassment and the Justice Unions’ Group, and it was drafted by Napo, the probation and family court union. It would ensure that sentences issued by the courts reflect the reality of abuse, which is rarely restricted to isolated incidents. The law would define domestic abuse as “intentionally, wilfully or recklessly causing, or attempting to cause, physical injury or psychological harm to a person”.
Those convicted would face prison sentences of up to 14 years.
Supporters of the bill say it would encourage more victims to report abuse, the Guardian reports. Many victims do not report abuse until they experience more than 30 incidents of violence.
Napo advisor Harry Fletcher told the Guardian: “It is extraordinary that domestic abuse is not a criminal offence in the UK. As a consequence reporting is low and behaviour is missed by workers in the justice system. Conviction rates are appallingly low at 6.5 percent. The police and the Crown Prosecution Service tend to deal with the matter before them and not long-term, repetitive abusive behaviour.
“This bill will make domestic abuse an offence with a maximum sentence of up to 14 years in prison. It will be the first time that an attempt will be made to criminalise a course of domestic abuse in this country.”