February 2023: Domestic Abuse raft of new measures

Written 27th March 2023 by Kate Young

In February 2023 a raft of new measures were announced to deal with domestic abuse. There will be a legal duty placed upon a ‘range of agencies’ so that there is a joined up approach to identify and tackle domestic abuse. Violence against women is to be treated as a national threat – on a par with terrorism.

Rishi Sunak:

“No woman or girl should ever have to feel unsafe in her home or community and I am determined to stamp out these appalling crimes. As well as extra support for victims, we’re making it a priority for the police to tackle violence against women and girls and toughening up the way offenders are managed – preventing more of these crimes from happening in the first place, and bringing more perpetrators to justice. Government will also require police forces to treat violence against women and girls as a national threat, as set out in a new strategic policing requirement published today. This means tackling these crimes will be as important as tackling threats like terrorism, serious and organised crime and child sexual abuse.” Greater emphasis is to be placed on the ‘ask for ANI’ (Action Needed Immediately) – the code word scheme that enables victims of abuse to ask for immediate help in participating Pharmacies and Job Centres. Over 5,000 pharmacies including Boots, Lloyds and community pharmacies are enrolled on the scheme.

Home Secretary, Suella Braverman:

‘…police forces in England and Wales will now have to treat violence against women and girls as a national threat and more victims will be protected from harm’.

Summary of measures and proposals

There will be a change in the law to ensure offenders will be monitored more closely.

Monitoring

For those convicted of controlling or coercive behaviour sentenced to a suspended sentence or to one year or more of imprisonment, this will trigger an automatic monitoring service under multi-agency public protection arrangements. A range of agencies, such as the police, prison and probation services will all have a legal duty to co-operate to manage risks posed by offenders. The aim is to deliver a joined up approach. In the interim period police and the probation service for those sentenced to a year or more will begin recording offenders’ details on the violent and sex offender register. As part of a pilot scheme for domestic abuse protection notices and domestic abuse protection orders in three areas in the UK a range of measures has been considered. Offenders could be made subject to an electronically monitored tag designed to prevent them from going within a certain distance of a victim’s home and made to attend a behaviour change programme. The National Police Chiefs’ Council will reiterate to forces that they must proactively identify the most dangerous domestic abusers in their area in order to prevent them from committing further crimes. This will be in conjunction with a new risk assessment tool developed by the Home Office so that the most dangerous offenders can be identified quickly.

Support

In terms of other support for complainants, from 20th February 2023 those at risk of, or suffering from, domestic abuse will be able to receive emergency help. This support will be provided by 18 jobcentres and jobs and benefit offices across the UK. There is already a scheme named Ask for ANI (Action Needed Immediately) scheme in operation in over 5,000 pharmacies across the UK which working in conjunction with Hestia’s Safe Spaces offers guidance to a safe and private space where they can make contact with the police and domestic abuse services.

The new measures in full:

  1. Tougher management of the most dangerous offenders: For those convicted of controlling or coercive behaviour sentenced to a suspended sentence or to one year or more of imprisonment, this will trigger an automatic monitoring service under multi-agency public protection arrangements. There will be a legal duty upon agencies to co-operate to manage the risks posed by these dangerous domestic abuse offenders. These offenders will also be added to the violent and sex offender register.
  1. Piloting new civil orders: New domestic abuse protection notices and orders will be enforced in Gwent, Greater Manchester, and three London boroughs (Croydon, Bromley and Sutton), with the Metropolitan Police, British Transport Police, and other criminal justice partners. The aim is to provide flexible, longer-term protection for victims. Offenders could be made subject to an electronically monitored tag designed to prevent them from going within a certain distance of a victim’s home and made to attend a behaviour change programme. It will also be mandatory for offenders to notify of any changes to their name or address. Breaches of the requirements would amount to a criminal offence.
  2. Ask for ANI codeword scheme pilot: This support will be provided by 18 jobcentres and jobs and benefit offices across the UK. There is already a scheme named Ask for ANI (Action Needed Immediately) scheme in operation in over 5,000 pharmacies across the UK which working in conjunction with Hestia’s Safe Spaces offers guidance to a safe and private space where they can make contact with the police and domestic abuse services.
  3. Adding violence against women and girls to the strategic policing requirement: Violence against women and girls is now categorised as a national threat by the Home Secretary’s new policing strategic requirement and sets clear expectations about how this threat should be tackled by police forces.
  4. Identifying dangerous perpetrators before conviction: A new risk assessment tool developed by the Home Office will use police data so that the most dangerous offenders can be identified quickly.
  5. Strengthening Clare’s Law: Police will now have a shorter time with which to disclose information to an interested party regarding an individual’s violent or abusive behaviour. The Clare’s Law scheme guidance is to be devised into legislation in March 2023. Under Clare’s Law currently you can: apply for information about your current or ex-partner because you’re worried they may have a history of abuse and are a risk to you or request information about the current or ex-partner of a friend or relative because you’re worried they might be at risk.
  6. Funding specialist victim support programmes: From 1 April 2023 up to £8.4 million will be invested over a two year period to fund trauma informed support projects run by specialist organisations.
  7. Investing in perpetrator interventions: Over the next two year period, Police and crime commissioners (PCCs) are to be given up a budget of up to £36 million for tackling perpetrators through interventions which directly address abusers’ behaviour.

Changes

With the imposition of the Domestic Abuse Act in April 2021 the definition of domestic abuse was amended to include physical, sexual, violent or threatening, psychological, emotional and coercive or controlling acts. Economic abuse was recognised. Children were recognised as victims. New offences of non-fatal strangulation and threats to disclose intimate images were introduced. A statutory duty was placed upon local authorities to place victims and their children into safe accommodation attracting £125 million of funding. The government aims to prioritise prevention, support survivors and strengthen the pursuit of perpetrators thought it violence against women and girls (VAWG) strategy. This is against the backdrop of the Online Safety Bill which aims to strengthen the law for behaviours committed online including sending and sharing of intimate images without consent. There is a new bill being debated which would introduce harsher sentences for someone who intentionally harasses, alarms or causes distress to someone in a public place due to their gender. The sentence will increase from six months to two years.

Further support measures

In addition the government is investing in the following other support measures: They have doubled funding for the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, and VAWG helplines. They launches ‘Enough’ a new campaign designed to challenge society’s attitude toward domestic abuse and VAWG and encourage intervention from observers of domestic abuse. They have promised over £79 million since 2020 for domestic abuse perpetrator interventions and research. This will include £36 million over the next two years for interventions. Amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 which will give complainants a longer window of time to report offences. Committed to increasing the number of independent sexual and domestic abuse advisors over the next 3 years.

Conclusion

With these changes it is anticipated that the number of clients being accused of domestic abuse with the consequential loss of family life, suspension from employment, and hardship will rise. The government’s action plan focuses on support and intervention, and societal attitudes but it doesn’t remark upon what training will be provided to police to push a sea of change. The risk assessment tool could prove vital but it is dependent on appropriate risk markers being identified by officers. Whilst the obligation on bystanders to report incidences of domestic violence provides little in terms of empowerment to complainants to raise their own objections. It is unclear to what extent these measures will tackle the escalating issue of domestic violence or whether it should have focussed on proper enforcement of the current legislation and appropriate referrals. The government’s investment in domestic abuse advisors has not tackled the substantial delay in the Court’s system which can see complainants without proper support retreat from giving evidence due to fear or with a view to reconciling with offenders. In addition to VAWG, there should also be specialist schemes considered for male victims of domestic violence and transgendered victims. Further investment should be considered for specialist support groups aimed at assisting these complainants. The pilot schemes will test the measures, but it is unclear whether police will set up specialist departments and if any of the budget has been set aside for recruitment, or if police will just be diverted away from their other duties to focus on this area. It is anticipated that there will be an increase in arrests, domestic violence protection notices and orders and convictions for a wider range of offences in all Courts.

How can we help?

The Olliers team of specialists has substantial experience in successfully representing clients facing of allegations of domestic abuse. If you face an allegation of domestic abuse of any kind, it is important not to sit back and leave the police to investigate the matter. Please contact one of our specialist defence lawyers as soon as possible on 0161 834 1515, by email to info@olliers.com or complete the form below.
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