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Monday, 24 June, 2002, 15:02 GMT 16:02 UK
Harman 'gets tough' on domestic abuse
A third of murders in England and Wales are "domestic"
A major overhaul of domestic violence laws is under consideration as part of a government crackdown on this type of crime.

Solicitor General Harriet Harman's changes could include anonymity for victims and a new law preventing harassment from abusive partners.

And she promised to exercise her powers to appeal against lenient sentences, during a conference of domestic violence prosecutors in London.


We want women to know they should not and need not put up with [violence] at home

Harriet Harman

She also called on the Law Commission - the independent body which advises the government on law changes - to carry out an in-depth review of how domestic violence cases are tackled.

Ms Harman said the message needed to go out to men that violence would not be tolerated and would be punished.

"Women know that they have protection against being hit, kicked and beaten at work and in the street," she said.

"We want women to know they should not and need not put up with it at home either."

The Crown Prosecution Service deals with 13,000 cases a year, she said.

She said there would be further changes in law to show women courts were "on their side" and to prove the government's "renewed commitment" to tackling the problem.

Tackling abuse

A 'non-molestation' order could be exented to further prevent the abusive partner from pursuing a victim.

It would protect victims and their families, who can currently be tracked down with some ease.

It is hoped this and a right to anonymity during court cases, mirroring laws which protect victims of sex offences, will encourage abuse victims to come forward.

"I am certainly clear that one of the reasons why women are prepared to go to the family courts but not to the criminal courts is the fear of washing their dirty laundry in public," she said.

Solicitor General Harriet Harman
Harman: "Courts are on the victim's side"
"You might need to look at the issue of victim confidentiality beyond sexual offences."

Introducing anonymity to domestic violence victims could be controversial.

It raises difficult questions about whether other crimes, such as assaults at work, deserve the same protection.

But the move signals Ms Harman's determination to get tough on perpetrators of domestic violence, which was highlighted in a recent case.

She successfully appealed to the Court of Appeal to increase a wife-beater's non-custodial sentence to a six-month jail term.

One-third of all murders in England and Wales are classed as 'domestic'.

It is a major cause of offences, accounting for a quarter of all cases of violent crime, with knock-on effects to families and the communities.

Agency co-operation

The conference - the first of its kind for the CPS - is also discussing pilot schemes being run by the service and Metropolitan Police.

These include developing "murder reviews" following domestic killings.

The reviews - similar to inquiries carried out after child murders - would draw together all the agencies which have come into contact with the family.

They would share notes to make procedural improvements to prevent further deaths.

Also under the spotlight is closer working relations between civil and criminal courts.

These often deal with different aspects of the same family's problems.

In future, details about the same family might be kept on a common database, allowing different agencies to share information before problems escalate.

A spokeswoman for Ms Harman stressed the ideas being discussed were in the early stages of development and had not yet been adopted.

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