Page last updated at 01:26 GMT, Friday, 21 August 2009 02:26 UK

Tougher stance on domestic abuse

Domestic violence
Restraining orders aim to protect abuse victims from further harassment

Domestic violence victims will be able to get greater protection from courts in England and Wales from next month.

Judges will have powers to impose restraining orders on abusers charged with any offence - even if they are cleared but still considered a threat.

Victims are currently often forced to go through civil courts to secure such an injunction even if, for example, a partner is convicted of assault.

Campaigners welcomed the move but said the orders must be properly enforced.

Restraining orders are designed to prevent people from interfering with a complainant. A conviction for breaking their terms can result in a jail term of up to five years.

[The powers will] help victims in need of immediate protection and spare them the need to take separate civil action
Home Office minister Lord West

At present, courts can only impose the injunctions in cases of convictions for two offences - harassment or putting someone in fear of violence.

From 30 September, anyone still considered a threat at the end of a criminal case - regardless of the charge or result - may be made subject of an order.

Solicitor General Vera Baird says it will be simpler for the courts to help protect victims

Home Office minister Lord West said on Friday: "Domestic violence is a devastating crime which impacts across all communities.

"The additional powers announced today will also help victims in need of immediate protection and spare them the need to take separate civil action."

The changes form the latest step in the government's reform of law on domestic violence.

'More convictions'

Recent years have seen the introduction of specialist domestic violence courtrooms, the training of 75 independent advisers specialising in this area and funding of a national helpline which received 137,000 calls in a year.

The Home Office says conviction rates among those cases which make it to court have risen from 60% to 72% over four years.

However, some charities have previously noted a rise in reports of domestic violence as a result of the economic downturn.

Refuge, a charity which helps victims of domestic violence, has welcomed the changes to the rules on restraining orders.

But it says it is essential the government provides the courts and the police with the resources and training to implement the orders effectively.

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