MPs back proposed domestic violence law

Family|Family Law|News|December 31st 2013

First aid signA 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.

He added:

“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.”

Photo by ictsan via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

Author: Stowe Family Law

Comments(38)

  1. Andrew says:

    “psychological harm ”

    What a hopelessly vague and subjective phrase to pin 14 years inside on. Come off it.

  2. Burnt B says:

    Dear Andrew
    Do you have any better ideas to suggest by way of definitions?

  3. Andrew says:

    Yes. Leave well alone. The current offences cover all the matters which ought to fall within the purview of the criminal law. Just being nasty without violence ought not to.

    This is NAPO’s version of the Dangerous Dogs Act, and it would be an instrument of blackmail and oppression if it were ever passed.

  4. Burnt B says:

    What is your experience to judge what psychological harm really means?
    Are you trained in mental health issues to pass such a judgement?
    I have twenty years experience being a therapist, and years of personal experience of how an abuser can cause serious psychological damage, especially to vulnerable children.
    It’s the ignorant but powerful people in society that cause so much damage, and keep our legal system in the dark ages.
    Be very careful with your limited thoughts on such matters, Andrew, and stick to what you know.

  5. Blunt B says:

    Now I’m being blunt…..
    What do you know about domestic abuse, psychological abuse, etc, and the effects of psychological abuse, especially on vulnerable children.
    I’m very persistent, and would like you, Andrew , to reply…..oh wise one!

  6. Luke says:

    “… it would be an instrument of blackmail and oppression if it were ever passed.”
    ==================================

    I agree, it’s ridiculous if it were to be implemented as it currently stands. It is basically telling you not to cohabit or get married as the risk of getting stitched up is massive.

    If you are already together and financially committed then may I suggest cameras in every room in the house !

  7. Burnt B says:

    I’m being very blunt…………and will keep going.
    Long term repetitive abuse can be very damaging, especially to children, and the UK law is in the dark ages concerning domestic abuse, which is very poorly understood by the legal professionals.
    It’s not just a question of just being nasty!
    Andrew, please educate yourself before making any further judgements on this subject.

  8. JamesB says:

    I agree. Currently you can be convicted of common assault for shouting at someone without even touching them. The current laws in this space should not be made even harsher. Sometimes people can say things you don’t want to hear, they should not be put in prison for that, that would be wrong.

  9. Burnt B says:

    Just being nasty, without violence……is that what you consider the true meaning of psychological domestic violence?
    I strongly urge you to gain more insights into domestic violence, and the impact it can have, especially on vulnerable children.
    Any domestic abuse centre will be very concerned about such comments, and I aim to share my concerns, at the very highest level.

  10. Tristan says:

    Does Burnt B advocate the imposition of prison sentences on mothers who alienate children from their fathers?

  11. Andrew says:

    Burnt B – the remedy for the sort of thing you are talking about does not lie with the criminal law which is adequate for judging whether A did B on date C to D but cannot well cope with such subjective and ill-defined actions as are here mentioned. Leave them to the civil and family courts.

  12. Luke says:

    “I strongly urge you to gain more insights into domestic violence, and the impact it can have, especially on vulnerable children.”
    =============================

    Good grief, we’re well aware of this, which is why false accusations taken at face value can be so damaging. THAT’S the point.

  13. Andrew says:

    “Any domestic abuse centre will be very concerned about such comments, and I aim to share my concerns, at the very highest level.”

    Burnt B: In mediaeval England or Cold War Eastern Europe that would have been a threat to denounce me to Church or Party respectively for holding and disseminating heretical opinions. That would have been dangerous for me; possibly for you too the the Official Line changed I might be rehabilitated (probably posthumously, but there you go) and you would be the next at the stake or in Siberia as the case might be.

    As it is, just what on earth does it mean?

  14. Anonymous says:

    I have to agree partially with Burnt B. These kinds of accusations need to be heard in a criminal court, where the false accuser stands just as good a chance of incriminating himself/herself.

    It’s precisely because family courts entertain false accusations 99 per cent of the time, in order to drag out hearings and put more money in the industry’s pockets, that children are left so damaged by alienating parents.

    However, we have to recognize this bill for what it is. An effort to give an already authoritarian government even more control over its people, and take attention off of the crimes currently being committed by the state, and focus attention on civilians. The classic strategy of the fascist state is one of criminalizing its own people. I suppose that is why Andrew mentioned Siberia.

    Also, this bill should be seen in the context of a few other highly sinister bills that MPs are currently backing, many of which compromise the welfare of ordinary folk.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Some of the worst forms of domestic abuse are psychological, inflicted upon victims by perpetrators who, over many years, are clever enough not to raise a hand to their victims because that would be proof. I wish I had the bruises to show for what I have been through, but I don’t. I am currently in CBT (therapy), I have zero confidence, constantly check the doors are locked, can’t go the shops or go out with friends as the anxiety is so bad I panic. I permanently feel worthless, ugly, afraid, and useless. I was a confident young woman, had the makings of a career now I am in my thirties, I have just managed to leave my husband and I am damaged so much I don’t know how I will ever find that confident woman again. From the views expressed above how are victims of genuine psychological abuse supposed to feel? Yes there may be a number of people who would take advantage of such a new law, but surely like any crime it would be investigated before prosecution? There is a real need for action over sustained psychological abuse and the damage it causes to victims, it is just as harmful as assault and has severe long term effects.

  16. BurntB says:

    Dear Anon
    You are SO brave to write what you did.
    Perhaps if more psychologically vulnerable people were to share their experiences those in positions of power would have a better understanding of the damage that psychological abuse can cause.
    There is such a great need for education in the this area.
    I wish that the legal profession would see and understand this.

  17. Tristan says:

    Adults are responsible for their own well-being and if they feel they cannot cope there are plenty of ports of call where help can be sought. Did you ever seek help? Why do you think your husband would have behaved any differently were there such laws? People break laws all the time despite their existence and the sanctions involved. Making laws to help the odd individual but which for the most part are unneeded and potentially open to abuse, is not the answer. Do you think mothers who cause psychological harm to their children by alienating them from their fathers ought to go to prison for fourteen years?

  18. Luke says:

    I agree with Tristan on this – we would be back to ‘Squeaky Wheel Syndrome’ – and it would be impossible to police, it would be great for the court system though because it would have to double in size trying to work out who if anybody was to blame (they won’t have a clue) and what to do about it.

    People have to accept some accountability for their lives.

  19. Tristan says:

    Once a poster starts talking about perpetrators it’s game over really as you sense there’s a propagandist behind every wearisome word spouted.

    As far as women generally are concerned they are a largely mollycoddled lot, well sheltered in every possible way by supportive social policy and far, far less vulnerable as an adult group than say old people. Separated fathers are way more vulnerable as a group, being open to abuse by police DV policy, courts, social worker bias, council officials, you name it. What outside support can a separated or divorced father count on if he lacks family or friends when he splits up? Social policy in its every manifestation puts the needs of a single mother well before those of her children or her ex partner.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Burnt B, thank you. It took me a while to press the submit button and I am glad I did. I completely agree.
    Tristan, I won’t be responding to questions about further details of my personal situation. I do not mention mothers or children, I have no experience of that to make comment. I do not state that I think my husband would have behaved differently either.
    Luke, I was not talking about the blame game. Psychological abuse is not about blame, nor is it about “accountability”. Victims of psychological abuse are not able to put a stop to it until help is sought, that’s the point, they can’t be accountable because their mental health has taken as bad a beating as a serious physical assault.
    Genuine sustained psychological abuse is very very real. I have received support from many agencies in recent weeks & it is only now that I am beginning to understand and come to terms with it, whilst I was still in the situation I could not see any way out.

  21. Luke says:

    “Luke, I was not talking about the blame game. Psychological abuse is not about blame, nor is it about “accountability”. ”
    ==============================

    I understand that psychological abuse can occur but we ARE talking about blame because you and others want to start gaoling some people who are accused of it.

    How is that going to be defined in court when people are in a relationship ? Who decides what’s worse and what is unacceptable ?
    I have to say that the idea of trying to sort out who said what (or used the silent treatment) and who ‘felt’ what and how to work out the context of that in a relationship that the court cannot really have intimate knowledge of is truly ridiculous.

    So yes, ultimately it is about accountability, we cannot be expected to treat an adult like an adult when they want it and then treat that same adult like a child when it just suits that particular individual. Some responsibility for one’s actions is required and that includes seeking help.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Tristan, the use of the words victims & perpetrator rather than women / men is a vocabulary choice to negate any gender bias as abuse can happen to either sex. I’m not aware which other nouns you may prefer to have used in that context, but can assure you that their usage was not for propaganda.

    Luke, I am not “gaoling” anyone. I speak only from my own experiences.

    To clarify, psychological abuse is more than who said what, and far more than the silent treatment. It is calculated, repeated, cyclic patterns of behaviour that a victim is subjected to over a significant period of time, it is not appropriate to call martial disputes, fallings out etc psychological abuse. Anyone who thinks that is the case is very much mistaken.

    Perhaps the assumption here is that I am a gossip monger, liar or fantasist, of which I am none. It is little wonder genuine victims seldom speak out when there are those so quick to shout them down & belittle them.

    I shan’t be responding further to this post as I have said all I feel able to right now.

  23. Andrew says:

    Anonymous: the fact- and indent-centred criminal law – with its insistence on people giving evidence in court with the defendant there and the defendant being presumed innocent until proved guilty – to the satisfaction of twelve common-sensical members of the community – is not going to help with this. The civil and family courts might in some cases. Not all.

  24. Luke says:

    “Luke, I am not “gaoling” anyone. I speak only from my own experiences. ”
    =============================

    The problem is that’s not really accurate – this is what you said – and I quote:
    —————————————————-
    ‘Yes there may be a number of people who would take advantage of such a new law, but surely like any crime it would be investigated before prosecution? There is a real need for action over sustained psychological abuse and the damage it causes to victims, it is just as harmful as assault and has severe long term effects.
    —————————————————-

    You are talking about “action” to deal with “crimes” – I don’t see any other way to read that – do you ?

    Again, you talk about psychological abuse but you don’t define anything about this non-physical behaviour – and do you think the other party is just going to accept this ? They will have their own view which no doubt will be wildly different – you end up with nothing but ‘he said – she said’.

    I am not suggesting anything about your personal circumstances – what I am suggesting is that trying to make verbal disagreement (which may or may not be psychological abuse) a punishable crime which can involve up to 14 years in gaol is totally impractical.

  25. u6c00 says:

    I was in an emotionally and psychologically abusive relationship and, like the anonymous poster above me, it’s taking me a long time to get somewhere close to where I can be self-confident. I won’t go into details because the abuse is subjective, I can’t properly describe and convey in words awful it was. You simply had to live it to understand it.

    But I damn sure oppose psychological harm being included in any criminal law. The reason is that it is subjective, and it means that a person cannot know whether they are breaking the law until the police come knocking to tell them that they have.

    Think your spouse is putting on weight? Tell them bluntly and you could be a criminal. Tell them subtly and you might be a criminal. Tell them that you don’t find them attractive and… you get the point.

    Criminal law needs to be objective, and, unless you can give an objective definition of “psychological harm” then I don’t think the proposed law is fit for purpose.

    I’ll tell you what would’ve helped me though, if someone had been there to help me get out of that relationship years earlier, maybe some education on what emotional and psychologically abusive relationships might look like. That might have helped me get out earlier than I did, and I would support that.

    For the record, I am male, and my ex-partner is female. You can decide for yourselves whether you think that’s relevant.

  26. Andrew says:

    For indent read incident.

  27. Luke says:

    “I’ll tell you what would’ve helped me though, if someone had been there to help me get out of that relationship years earlier, maybe some education on what emotional and psychologically abusive relationships might look like. That might have helped me get out earlier than I did, and I would support that.”
    ========================================

    Spot on ‘u6c00’, as long as feminist dogma is not part of the agenda and it is on a neutral basis then ‘Relationship Management’ along with ‘Money Management’ and ‘Divorce Law’ should be taught in school (definitely including where you can get help) – but there is no drive for this because there is no money for any interested party in pushing for it.
    This should all come under ‘Life Management’ – I know in my day there was virtually none of this. When I think back on it the lack of direction offered and self-interest from the teaching faculty was extraordinary.

  28. Stitchedup says:

    I’m not sure where to start with this discussion; it all seems academic. I already have a DV conviction, it was very easy for the CPS to secure on the back of an ex-parte non-mol secured in the civil courts. I was found guilty of breaching the non mol as I spoke to my ex and very nearly went to jail. It was deemd by the judge that I was being deliberately awkward about the sale of the family home, no violence involved just a difference of oppinion re. the selling price and what was best for the children in the long run.

    I didn’t want to sell the house because the market was depressed and the vaulation was too low, valued to secure a quick sale rather than true market value.

    Told my ex she could live in it until the kids left Uni, I would pay half the £230/month mortgage, and we would agree to sell at a mutually convenient time after the kids had left Uni.

    The ex secured an order of sale and sold it at rock bottom price, not a penny more than she could legally sell it for; squndering everything I hard worked towards for over 20 years and also my children’s inheritance.

    I got 250 hours community service, a years supervision and a restraining order forbidding me contact my ex until furtrher order.

    Like Andrew, I’m of the oppinion that the criminal courts are not the place to resolve domestic disputes. We have people being convicted just forb talking to an ex or sending texts to let an ex know they’ll be late picking the kids up. As I’ve said before, we are suffering from DV hysteria in this country, completely over the top!!

  29. Tristan says:

    It seems you were subjected to an unfair legal process, Stitched. I wear my ex-parte non mol with pride. No self-respecting separated father ought to be without one. Non-mols delivered ex-parte, on phony evidence, come with extra ribbons. See it positively: they demonstrate that YOU CARE (if, at the same time, a tad naive).

    The issuing of no-notice non-molestation orders in the course of family proceedings is a disgrace, a shameful reflection on a judiciary which dishes them out as Smarties.

  30. Stitchedup says:

    Andrew, in an earlier post you made the following comment:
    “Anonymous: the fact- and indent-centred criminal law – with its insistence on people giving evidence in court with the defendant there and the defendant being presumed innocent until proved guilty – to the satisfaction of twelve common-sensical members of the community – is not going to help with this. The civil and family courts might in some cases. Not all.”

    In my experience, allegations of minor domestic abuse and/or breaches of non-mols are rarely heard before “twelve common-sensical members of the community”. They are often heard in the magistrates courts and in “crack down” areas before a district judge, not 3 magistrates, who is just itching to convict for this hideous crime of “domestic violence” when in fact the defendent is often only accused of communicating with the “victim”. I personaly believe this is distorting the natural course of justice, particulalry when a defence of “reasonable excuse is made”. Twelve common-sensical members of the community may well have a very different oppinion on what amounts to reasonable excuse than a distirct judge in a crackdown area. e.g most common sensicle people would consider it reasonable to speak if spoken to, or to ask to speak to the kids if an ex answers the phone, whereas a district judge will expect you to stand there dumb or make a silent phone call.

  31. Stitchedup says:

    Thanks for your comments Tristan. The abuse of ex-parte non-mols in family proceedings is a scandal of massive proportions imho. The fall-out is incredibly destructive and renders any chance of an amicable divorce/separation almost impossible. They can particularly damaging to the children who will be caught up in the middle often with divided loyalties, and even more damaging if they find themselves the child of a convict who can no longer find a job. It is a complete and utter disgrace!!!

  32. Tristan says:

    95% of allegations made in family cases are either false or irrelevant to the matter at hand. Unless a domestic violence allegation is backed up with a police report, it ought to be thrown out on the spot along with the rest of her, by inference, false allegations. Judges ought not to let litigants produce written statements to make bogus allegations. If you have an allegation to make in the course of custody and access proceedings, go and tell it to the Cafcass officer or social worker. They are the child protection officers. Let them assess plausibility and refer allegations for formal findings by a court. Once litigants make ridiculous written statements, it adds umpteen weeks or months to a case that could otherwise be resolved in minutes.

  33. Stitchedup says:

    The way I see it is if you assault a partner that can be covered by criminal courts.
    If you damage property that can be covered in criminal courts.
    If you threaten violence that can be covered in the criminal courts.
    How ever, if you speak to somebody or have a diagreement with a partner about the selling price of a house that would not normaly be covered by the criminal courts, or any court for that matter. Contrary to what judges claim, Non-mols actually do stop people doing things that they would normally be allowed to do and they impose a totally barbaric level of control over a persons actions during a very emotional time.

  34. Tony says:

    I feel the writers here (many of them)are missing the point.14 years would be the final figure for extreme cases.Mental abuse happens and it’s impact is terrible.Having a profound long term effect on both adults and children.There is a serious shortage of places for men to turn to.Women are better served.But irrespective those involved need help and long term advice.If the Law isn’t there for them then who? Of course they have to prove it.Thats what the law is about,evidence ! But that is possible by keeping records,recording etc.

  35. Stitchedup says:

    Sorry Tony, I don’t see how a log written by an accuser amounts to evidence beyond reasonable doubt….it could be complete fiction. No doubt the burden will be on the accused to prove he didn’t do something, i.e. trying to prove a negative, when the burden should be on the accuser/prosecutor. I’m amazed that logs written by accusers are admissible as evidence in court. Logs are really only good as an aide memoire, usually for the accused e.g. to help prove he was at another location when an alleged event took place. In the absence of hard evidence, a written log is no different to one word against the other in my opinion, and too much weight is given to them in court.

  36. Luke says:

    “Sorry Tony, I don’t see how a log written by an accuser amounts to evidence beyond reasonable doubt….it could be complete fiction.”
    ===========================

    Exactly, and how are you going to work out the context of the situation and timing and emphasis and looks involved – how are you going to work out how badly the victim ‘felt’ about it ? What about how the other person ‘felt’ 🙂

    I am amazed that anybody seriously thinks this would be realistic.

  37. SM says:

    My first hand experience shows the current system supports the abuser and tends to allow them to continue and develop their abuse.
    I have been subjected to Domestic Violence by my ex wife since 1981 who traumatised me with her continued ‘swinging affair’ for which I was not prepared for nor consented to. I reported this to the police and marriage guidance but was laughed at. After filing for divorce 2007 and fleeing the family home I suffered my third nervous breakdown due to continuing mental abuse and stalking, and in 2009 a consent order was pushed through at the height of my clinical depression. I have now recently discovered the financial statements were falsified and theft took place at the time and since. In 2011 an Employment Tribunal declared me disabled under the DDA, mentally disabled. Since then my psychologist declared that I suffer from long term sexual, mental and financial abuse which over a long time developed into Complex Trauma. Last year I reported Domestic Violence to the Cleveland police who again tried to fob it off after stating to me that they were considering pursuing an investigation under Section 20, GBH, and then informing me of their financial difficulties investigating such a case.
    This whole situation I find myself in shows the Criminal Justice System, the Police, NHS, and legal system (solicitors) just ignore my case and set it aside under ‘a domestic’.
    My blood family and my ‘children’ have all disowned me and due to my ex wife’s ‘stories’. I am isolated and my promising career as an academic destroyed.
    Following a slow recovery and years of postal theft and mental abuse, I have recently discovered the information needed to appeal against the Court’s ‘Consent Order’ but cannot find a solicitor. I have also revealed more photographic and video evidence for the police to pursue any future Criminal Case.
    If this proposed Domestic Violence Law goes through then I will re-apply to the Police system but this time to the CPS in the hope of a response.
    In summary, my case shows that DV happens to men and that this proposed change in the Law is well overdue.
    Stuart

  38. Stitchedup says:

    Stuart, I wouldn’t bank on it helping Male victims of domestic violence. The issue of Male victims of domestic violence is only given lip service…… something along the lines of “Men are victims as well, but”.

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