As regular readers will know, the Government is putting together a draft Domestic Abuse Bill, which is due for publication this autumn. The Bill was the subject of a consultation earlier this year, for details of which see this post I wrote back in March.
The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee has recently published a report in which it urges the Government to widen the scope of the Bill. Amongst other recommendations, the Committee recommends that the Bill include a statutory obligation upon local authorities in England and Wales to provide emergency refuge places, the establishment of a national register of serial stalkers and serial domestic violence perpetrators, and an end to single Universal Credit payments, which can make abuse victims more likely to stay with an abuser.
In this post I am concentrating upon the second of those recommendations: that a national register of serial stalkers and serial domestic violence perpetrators be established. What are the ideas behind this, what exactly does it entail, and is it a good idea?
The idea is not entirely new. For example, the National Stalking Advocacy Service Paladin has been campaigning for some time for the introduction of a register of serial stalkers and domestic violence perpetrators, which they say would enable police to pro-actively identify, track, monitor and manage stalkers (and abusers). Paladin says:
“Currently there is no existing framework which can track or monitor serial stalkers and domestic violence perpetrators. Instead police rely on a series of victims to report multiple crimes and often it is the victims who are forced to modify and change their behaviour, flee their homes and disappear themselves in order to stay safe … We track victims when they move but not the problem – the perpetrator. This needs to change. It is the perpetrator’s behaviour that is the problem. There needs to be a positive obligation on them to change their behaviour and take responsibility. They are the ones who need to be tracked, supervised and managed and not the victim.”
Specifically, Laura Richards, the Founder of Paladin, proposes that stalkers who have offended on two occasions would be included on the register (and presumably there be a similar provision for serial domestic violence/abuse ‘offenders’, more of which in a moment), and the Committee appears to agree with this, recommending that such a register be introduced as a matter of urgency.
What happens to those on the register? Well, the Committee say that they should, like registered sex offenders, “be managed through multi-agency public protection arrangements”. This could, for example, involve “the close involvement of mental health services in programmes to tackle the behaviour of perpetrators and reduce re-offending.” The Committee says:
“We believe that a more integrated VAWG [Violence Against Women and Girls] and domestic abuse strategy would support a better statutory response to stalking, and a more joined-up approach to supporting victims and managing the behaviour of perpetrators.”
It all sounds like an excellent idea, which could deter abusers, protect victims from further ‘offences’, and help to rehabilitate ‘offenders’.
The only note of caution I would add is this. Having your name appear on such a register is an extremely serious matter. However, domestic violence and abuse is not always ‘black and white’, both in terms of who is responsible, and how serious it is. I am most certainly not suggesting that domestic abuse is not a serious matter, but my quarter-century of ‘witnessing’ it as a family lawyer taught me that abuse is often at a low-level, and incidents are often ‘six of one and half a dozen of the other’. In other words, both parties can be to blame, to one extent or another. In such situations, punishing one party (or even both parties) by placing their name on a national register would be out of all proportion. It must therefore be clear that only those guilty of serious abuse be included on the register.
But that is only a relatively small point, in that it should be easily dealt with. Overall, I think the idea of a register may be a good one. Certainly, it deserves further consideration (it is just a pity it was not included in the consultation, so that everyone could give their views).
You can read the Home Affairs Committee’s report here. The register recommendation is to be found at paragraph 29.
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse the Refuge Freephone 24-hour domestic violence helpline is 0808 2000 0247 or visit https://www.refuge.org.uk/ or the ManKind Initiative who run a confidential help line on 01823 334244 or visit: https://www.mankind.org.uk/