[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Thursday, 27 November, 2003, 18:22 GMT
Domestic violence laws toughened
Schemes where victims meet offenders could be expanded
The biggest overhaul of laws on domestic violence since the 1970s was promised in the Queen's Speech.

Under the plans, police will get new powers to deal with offenders.

And the civil laws on intimidation will be extended to cover same sex partners, unmarried couples and those who have never lived together.

The new legislation would also give crime victims and witnesses a watchdog to speak up for their interests.

'Rebalance'

Domestic violence accounts for a quarter of all murders in Britain.

A Home Office spokesman said the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill was a key part of the government's efforts to put victims at the heart of the criminal justice system.

"The biggest overhaul of the law on domestic violence since the 1970s, the bill would build on our ongoing work to reform the criminal justice system to rebalance the system in favour of victims, witnesses and communities," he said.

The changes are aimed at ensuring the needs and protection of the victims comes first in domestic violence cases.

The details have yet to be unveiled but among the ideas being considered by the government are making breaching harassment orders a criminal offence.

Offenders register?

The media could also be banned from reporting the names of alleged victims of abuse in an effort to encourage more to come forward with complaints.

And there could be a register of domestic violence offenders, similar to that used for sex offenders, where they could have to notify police of changes of address.

There will be reviews of domestic violence murders "to learn lessons for the future".

Earlier this year Home Secretary David Blunkett proposed that offenders could avoid prosecution if they agree to face-to-face meetings with their victims and see the impact of their offences.

The proposals for "restorative justice" were hailed by Mr Blunkett as likely to deliver "faster, more cost effective justice" although he acknowledged the plans were "radical".

As well as a new independent commissioner for victims and witnesses, courts and other justice agencies will have to keep to a new code of practice on helping victims.

Legal rights?

Other ideas which might be included in legislation include making offenders pay compensation to victims, offering an apology for their actions or doing unpaid community work.

Both victims and offenders would have to consent to taking part in the scheme with the perpetrator admitting to the offence.

A Victim Support spokesman welcomed the creation of a new commissioner.

"To be as effective as possible, we believe the commissioner should have the power to require all government departments to have pro-victim and witness policies and procedures, and be independent and open," he said.

But he said he was surprised there had been no reference to the introduction of legal rights for victims of crime recently published by the government.

Conservative spokesman for women Caroline Spelman welcomed the proposed new laws but was disappointed no date had been set for the start of the government's telephone helpline for domestic violence victims.

"There is a huge demand from victims of domestic violence, which current helplines run by national charities can barely meet," she said.

"The government's delay in this area is especially appalling considering two women die every week as a result of domestic violence."


RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific