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Domestic violence: changes to guidelines

September 21, 2012 Speech Box

My guest blogger, family solicitor Victoria Walker, discusses the latest changes to definition of domestic abuse.

Domestic violence and protecting victims has been on the government’s agenda for some time. Since 2004 the government’s definition of domestic violence has been ‘any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality’.

The government started a consultation process in December 2011 on whether this definition should be extended as there were concerns that it was too narrow and many perpetrators escaped prosecution as a result.

Earlier this week, Nick Clegg revealed plans to change this definition in light of the results of the consultation process. The changes to the guidelines and definition will mean that the definition draws attention to non-physical abuse and includes under 18’s meaning that young victims can be protected and young perpetrators can be prosecuted. The changes are likely to be in place by March 2013.

The government has also been working on protecting victims by providing information on partners with a violent past. Clare Woods was murdered by her ex-partner in 2009.

Unbeknown to Clare her ex-partner had a history of serious domestic violence against women. The coroner at the inquest said that women had a right to know about their partner’s criminal past. Clare’s family campaigned for this change in the law and were supported by MP Hazel Blears. The Home Secretary Theresa May agreed to run the pilot.

The pilot known as Clare’s Law was launched in July 2012 in the Gwent and Wiltshire areas; it will be extended to Greater Manchester and Nottinghamshire by the end of September this year.

This test scheme gives people the right to ask the police to check whether a new or existing partner has a violent past. If the check reveals the person may be at risk of domestic violence the police will consider disclosing the information.

The pilot is also going to consider how the police can disclose relevant information to individuals at risk of domestic violence without them asking for it.

This scheme follows the government’s consultation published in October 2011. The pilot will end in September 2013 and the results will be considered carefully to decide how to move forward.

Changing the definition of domestic violence will not actually change the law at all. It has always been possible to apply for protection in the family courts against non physical violence but it can at times be difficult to persuade a judge to make the injunction you are asking for particularly since the change in the law making a breach of an injunction a criminal offence.

In my experience the police all too often fail to take domestic violence seriously meaning that many people contact solicitors to help them get protection from the family courts, I am not convinced that this change will offer any better protection for victims.

If you are in need of protection and the police aren’t taking your concerns seriously please contact family solicitors who can help you. Legal Aid may be available meaning you do not have to pay for your representation and advice.

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