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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 December, 2003, 18:20 GMT
Domestic abusers face crackdown
Domestic violence incident
Each year 120 women and 30 men are killed by current or ex-partners
Suspected domestic violence offenders face new court orders keeping them away from their partner under planned laws unveiled on Tuesday.

The "stay away" orders will come into force whether somebody is found guilty or acquitted of violent crimes.

The measures are in the new Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill.

Ministers also want to prevent parents accused of killing their children from escaping prosecution if it cannot be shown which committed the crime.

KEY MEASURES
New "stay away" orders
Anonymity for victims
Register of offenders
Victims' commissioner

Together with Comic Relief, Refuge and Women's Aid Federation of England, the government is also launching a 24-hour freephone domestic violence helpline before Christmas.

Tony Blair has given his personal backing to the moves, describing domestic violence as a "sickening" crime that has remained "in the shadows" for far too long.

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

New measures to tackle the problem were promised in last week's Queen's Speech and now the details are being published.

Officials say it is the biggest overhaul of the laws covering domestic violence in England and Wales since the 1970s.

Victims of crime: Ask the expert
Debora Singer from Victim Support answered your questions in a live interactive forum

Easier enforcement

It will cover gay couples and unmarried heterosexuals, as well as people who have never lived with their partners.

Courts can already order suspected offenders to keep away from their partners but the government is trying to make such orders easier to enforce.

Solicitor General Harriet Harman is saying the new system will include giving suspected offenders a "yellow card".

Domestic violence is... carried out by people the victim should be able to trust most. Usually takes place at home where they should feel safest. And, appallingly, often in front of their children
Tony Blair

"The stay away order will... be issued in the magistrates and crown courts where there is a conviction for domestic violence, but also crucially where there has been an acquittal," said Ms Harman.

"Courts will be able, even as they are acquitting the defendant, to ensure the victim's safety by ordering him to 'stay away'.

"It will be, if you like, a yellow card and he will know that if he breaches the order that in itself will be a criminal offence punishable by up to five years in prison."

Early intervention

The prime minister said the crime was far more common than people thought and happened to all ages, backgrounds and classes.

"Domestic violence devastates families and ruins lives," Mr Blair wrote in Tuesday's Sun newspaper.

"It's something this government, together with the police and courts, has worked hard to treat with the gravity it deserves.

"It is a symbol of our determination to rebalance the whole criminal justice system around the needs of the victim."

If it becomes law the bill will also:

  • Make common assault an arrestable offence

  • Trigger multi-agency reviews in cases of domestic murder, as happens with child killings

  • Make breaching non-molestation orders an arrestable offence with up to five years jail

  • Establish a register for domestic violence offenders, forcing them to tell police when they change their addresses, as for sex offenders

  • Give same sex couples same protection as heterosexual couples

  • Provide a new offence of causing or allowing death of a child or vulnerable adult

  • Introduce a ban on the media naming victims of alleged domestic violence in court cases in an effort to encourage more people to come forward with complaints

  • Establish a victims' commissioner to speak up for the interests of victims

In a separate move, the Home Office has also announced a plan to close the loophole in trials where police cannot prove which parent killed their child.

Helping victims

Home Secretary David Blunkett said: "Domestic violence is an abhorrent crime, which costs the lives of two women every week, and accounts for almost a quarter of all violent crime.

"The government is determined to tackle domestic violence and is bringing forward the biggest reform of the law in this area in 30 years.

"I intend to make sure that victims get the help, support and protection they need, and to make sure that the police and the courts have the powers they need to convict and punish these offenders."

Conservative spokesman for women, Caroline Spelman, said legislation was not necessarily the "panacea" when it came to tackling domestic violence.

She also cast doubt on the way some judges dealt with cases that came before them.

"Over 60 per cent of sentences are increased as a result of appeal, this indicates that the judiciary is poorly educated when it come to sentencing crimes of domestic violence and that sentencing is systematically too light," she said.

Janet Paraskeva, chief executive of the Law Society, welcomed the bill but was worried about the plan to issue orders against acquitted suspects.

"We believe that the criminal court should refer the case to the family court for consideration of the issue," she said.

Read a selection of your comments below.


Your comments:

I divorced my husband this year due to DV as I did not want to subject my son to any more abuse than he had already witnessed. He was already a victim of mental abuse. I am now trying to fight for what I believe is right, that my son should not have to see his father if he does not wish too. The violent and abusive outbursts are still occurring even after many warnings from police and solicitors. I too am scared about the PR side - it takes more than PR to make a father in my eyes - and welcome any new law that can help us to fight this. We are the victims yet time and time again the abuser gets away with it by making feeble excuses. I am in total agreement with this.
Anon, UK

The stay-away order even following acquittal is simply bizarre. I suspect, as others have mentioned, that this new "crackdown" will simply provide the embittered or the spiteful a new legal stick with which to torment former partners. I share the worries of many here, too, that the law will be unfairly applied to men, ignoring the many women who are abusers. For the record and for what it's worth, I happen to be a female who has experienced abuse from a male partner in a past relationship but I still believe this proposal has the potential to be applied unfairly to and against men.
KPK, UK

There needs to be an adequate avenue for counter-action for malicious use of this law
Paul, UK
Whilst agreeing wholeheartedly with these proposals, they do not necessarily protect the innocent, just the accuser. There needs to be an adequate avenue for counter-action for malicious use of this law. Also if it's OK to ban the media from naming accusers that should apply to the accused until after the trial judgement so that the stigmatisation of the potentially-innocent accused, by the press, does not occur.
Paul, UK

It is not true to say that this law makes people automatically guilty even if they're innocent. It simply gives a man or woman the right to say they do not want contact with another person and have the police enforce that right. It means that they do not have to wait until harm is done to them to get protection. It is the right to be left alone, whether anyone is guilty of abuse or not. It is a sensible law to nip hassling and bullying in the bud before a situation can escalate into violence. It makes perfect sense.
Kristin, Ireland

Good move. Funny how men seem to be a bit anti these moves! Dealing with domestic violence daily is a real eye opener. The victims go through hell, as do their children. Do nothing wrong and you have nothing to fear.
Simon, UK

Quote 'The "stay away" orders will come into force whether somebody is found guilty or acquitted of violent crimes'. So even if you're found innocent, you're still guilty?!? And that's called justice!
Darren Hill, UK

Long overdue legislation in my opinion
Dylan, UK
I think that the automatic restraining order is a good idea. I mean why would you want to see your ex-partner if your relationship had got to the stage of accusing each other of domestic violence. It's pretty obvious that the reason for it is that many abusers manage to blag their way out of prosecution with the consequences being devastating for the victim. Long overdue legislation in my opinion.
Dylan, UK

We think this is a good idea. Women and men need to feel encouraged to report domestic violence. All too often people have to suffer from violence without any support and usually end up feeling that it is their fault. Anyone who is against these reforms must be against the idea of living free from fear, something that these reforms may encourage.
Jennifer and Kirsten,

I have suffered from abuse by my female partner for many years yet the common assumption is that the man is always to blame. This is a PC charter that is wide open to abuse by bullying violent women who in many cases are in denial about their problem. The money this law will cost would be better spent teaching BOTH sexes about respect for others, personal responsibility and anger management.
Duncan, UK

I think that the yellow card for so called innocent wife beaters is an excellent idea. I live in Spain and was the victim of domestic violence for more years than I care to remember. I reported my partner and he got off scot free because domestic violence takes place in the home without witnesses and even though I was left black and blue on occasions he just said "it wasn't me" and got away with almost killing me twice. In the end I had to run away. The law could not protect me.
Heather Arnold, Spain

After five and a half years apart from my ex-husband he committed common assault against me in front of my six year old son in a public place, in front of two witnesses. He also knocked down my 66 year old friend and was given 90 hours community service for the offences. The Court later ruled indirect contact for our son as he refused to see his father. As much as I believe a child should have contact with their father, enough was enough. We now live a wonderfully relaxed, happy, contented life. It was a victory but a very sad, hollow one! At the time I felt justice was done but I believe the new laws will provide a deterrent to protect women, and hopefully men, for the longer period.
Penny, England

The new proposals are great. These offenders should be on a national register and it would help future partners of these offenders to make an informed decision about their relationship. I suffered many beatings, near strangulation and subsequent stalking at the hands of my first husband. He had been married and abused before and if I had known his history then I would never have gotten involved. I was afraid to leave him in case it sparked of even more violence, since there was absolutely no legal support, and suffered many more years than I needed to. I was forced to let our daughter stay with him weekends, his abuse of me didn't count, and she witnessed his violence against her step-mother and step-brother. Had this bill been in place then, I would have had the courage to walk out much sooner.
Jackie Thompson, England

Why should domestic violence offenders be put on a register? If that's the case then ALL violent offenders should be put on a register. Domestic violence offenders are not a risk to the general public. As for issuing orders against someone that has been acquitted of an offence... It's absurd! What will be next? You get acquitted of shoplifting and then get an order keeping you out of shopping centres?! Innocent should mean innocent!
Paul Monaghan, UK

I now have a new life but welcome anything that makes being the victim easier
Anon, UK
When my marriage ended I nearly became another statistic but with the fantastic support of the police I escaped and my husband was convicted. I now have a new life but welcome anything that makes being the victim easier. I will always be afraid but what worries me most is that my husband still has parental responsibility for my two children. If he ever found me he could demand access and if I die he would get custody. I would like the law to change to protect the children too.
Anon, UK

These laws will only encourage women who make false allegations against their partners to continue to do so. My ex partner falsely accused me of four assaults on her yet still continues to live in the same property.
Michael, UK

I think it's good that such measures are being taken as domestic violence is a major issue. But why is it that it's a case of "he" will get a yellow card. Isn't it time people realised that domestic violence also happens to men and this should be highlighted as well. Men should be made to feel like they have someone/somewhere to turn to when this happens, and the woman should be made to leave the family home and punished just the same as a man would've. The motto should be "If you can't do the time then don't do the crime".
Caroline, England

Now, the woman can claim anything just to get her partner into trouble. Will this apply to violent women - of course not!
Fred

The measures are absolutely great, however the government will have to make sure that men aren't automatically accused after police attend a domestic violence incident. There are many cases where woman are the abusers but this isn't always clear when police first attend such an incident. These measures appear to be pointing the finger at men only, this seriously needs to be addressed before any such measure is put in place.
Ian Westerby, UK

So, once again the government is saying 'we will find you guilty, even if you are not'. All a partner would have to do is cry domestic violence, get it to court, and have a restraining order automatically put onto the other partner. I'm not wishing to take anything away from sufferers of domestic violence, but this does seem a step to far.
James Mayl, England

One can only but welcome the move. In particular, the register for DV offenders is particularly positive as, given the nature of domestic violence offending, one can hope that it will act as a future deterrent for perpetrators. Personally, what I welcome the most, and find the most helpful, one year on, is the fact that it is been spoken about...It takes away some of the shame that always surrounds DV and I am hoping that it is making people more aware of the extent of the problem, and how it can happen to anybody.
NH, Great-Britain

Heard this story on the radio while in a mini bus with eight other men. Through discussion we found that eight out if nine of us had experienced violence from our female partners. Whilst the vast majority of serious violence is perpetrated by men, I think that female violence gets little attention, it's even seen as acceptable. It's almost seen as the man's fault for letting it happen. For every male bully, there are many who resist retaliating against violence perpetrated against them.
Peter Harkness, N. Ireland

This is open to the making of false allegations
T J Newman, UK
Yes a step in the right direction yet many are too afraid to report such violence. Many put up with it because of the children and some because in some misguided way love the abuser. I do not believe it right to issue a stay away order if the person has been acquitted, this is open to the making of false allegations.
T J Newman, UK

One step closer to a police state. All a bitter woman has to do now after a break up to stop her ex seeing the children, is accuse him of domestic violence. He is automatically guilty even if he's innocent. You call this justice? What planet are you on?
Guy, UK




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Alison Holt
"Campaigners maintain domestic violence has been ignored for too long"


Ruth Aitken, Refuge
"Domestic violence has been a crime in this country since 1861"



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