On Friday the Prime Minister’s Office, the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice joined their formidable forces to publish a press release informing us that:
“Prime Minister Theresa May announced plans for a major programme of work leading towards bringing forward a Domestic Violence and Abuse Act.”
The news appears to have been generally welcomed, particularly by domestic abuse charities, although the Labour Party (surely quite rightly) pointed out that the success of any new initiative depended upon the necessary funding being available.
So, what exactly is this “major programme”? Well, despite the fact that a new statute has been mentioned, no new laws have been announced. Instead, we are told that Theresa May “plans to transform the way we think about and tackle domestic violence and abuse” via a programme of work that “will look at what more can be done to improve support for victims especially in the way the law, and legal procedures, currently work for such victims.”
We are further told that experts in the field of domestic abuse “will be invited to contribute ideas and proposals for improving the way the system works which is likely to lead to legislation – making it much easier for law enforcement bodies to find and use more consistently the measures at their disposal.” In addition, and slightly worryingly, we are also told that: “The Prime Minister will also ask for any potential ‘quick wins’ in the intervening period to be identified and acted upon.” I’m not sure of the distinction between ‘quick wins’ and rushed, ill thought-out, ‘quick fixes’, but we won’t go into that.
All of this work, it is hoped, will lead to measures which “will raise public awareness of the problem – as well as encourage victims to report their abusers and see them brought to justice”. Those measures, presumably, will be contained in the said Domestic Violence and Abuse Act.
Now, perhaps it is just me, but isn’t there something just a little odd about all of this? Isn’t the usual sequence of events that the government announces an investigation into a perceived problem (usually via a Law Commission report), the investigation is carried out and then the government decides whether or not to enact any recommendations contained in the investigators’ report? In other words, no legislation is announced until there are concrete proposals that the government wishes to enact. Here, we have a shiny new Act, but nothing to fill it.
I do hope I am wrong but to me all of this smacks a little of trying to make political capital of an issue which, in Theresa May’s own words, “is a life shattering and absolutely abhorrent crime”. What if the programme fails to come up with any measures that the government considers to be worthy of enactment? What if it does come up with some worthy ideas, but they fall far short of the transformative measures we have been promised? After all, setting up a programme and expecting it to come up with something that will make a substantial difference to an issue such as domestic abuse is, to say the least, rather optimistic. Surely the Prime Minister is aware of the enormity of the task she has set, and the likelihood that it will fall far short of the high expectations she is encouraging? Is she just getting involved just to make her look like a caring leader who really makes things better?
Domestic violence and abuse is, of course, an issue that has been given a great deal of attention by various governments over the years, including Theresa May’s own efforts when she was Home Secretary. If all of that attention has failed to come up with solutions, it’s difficult to see that this new initiative will be any more successful. And by ‘solutions’ I do not mean eradicating domestic abuse, as some commentators have suggested should be the aim of this initiative – domestic abuse will of course never be entirely eradicated, and anyone who suggests that it will is at best wildly over-optimistic, or at worst naïve.
Personally, I am not sure that further law can achieve much, although I would be extremely happy to be proved wrong. My view is that the best approach to the problem is to educate. Education can be for all ages but in particular our children need to be told that domestic violence and abuse is wrong. They need to have it explained to them how it destroys lives, not just of the victims, but also the perpetrators and, of course, any children involved. No one should be allowed to think that it is in any way acceptable or excusable. That, I think, is the best way forward.
You can read the PM’s/Home Office’s/ MoJ’s press release here.