Domestic violence charities welcome change in law to give victims greater protection from abusers
Friday 21 August 2009 13.16 BST
Abusive partners could face restraining orders, even if they are acquitted of assault under new powers to be introduced next month.
Enhanced legal protections for victims of domestic violence will come into effect on 30 September, making it easier for courts to grant injunctions against abusive partners.
Previously, judges in criminal cases could only impose non-molestation orders, for example if defendants had been convicted of either harassment or putting someone in fear of violence.
The change, belatedly implementing legislation passed five years ago, was today welcomed by women’s aid charities and refuges. Breaking the terms of an order can lead to a jail term of up to five years.
A Home Office spokesman said: “Courts will be given greater powers to impose restraining orders on husbands who beat their wives. From next month, abusers accused of any criminal offence could find themselves hit with a court injunction.
“Judges will even be able to impose an order if the defendant is acquitted. At the moment only those convicted of two distinct offences – harassment or putting someone in fear of violence – can be hit with an order, unless victims take a separate civil action.”
According to the Home Office, domestic violence accounts for 14% of all violent incidents and involves more repeat victims than any other crime. Repeat victimisation accounts for 66% of all incidents of domestic violence; 21% of victims have been victimised three or more times.”
Home Office minister Lord West said: “Domestic violence is a devastating crime which impacts across all communities. The additional powers will help victims in need of immediate protection and spare them the need to take separate civil action.”
Women’s charities insisted the powers to impose orders on those acquitted of domestic violence did not represent a significant breach of human rights, pointing out that non-molestation orders can already be granted in civil proceedings before the final hearings.
Nicola Harwin, chief executive of Women’s Aid, said: “We must improve protection for those affected by abuse … These restraining orders will provide a valuable new tool to help protect victims. Evidence shows that although many young people will not tolerate domestic violence, up to a million girls and boys in the UK are at risk every year.”
Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge, a charity that helps women and children who have experienced domestic violence, said: “[We are] pleased that five years after the Domestic Violence Crime and Victims Act (2004) was passed the government is going to give the criminal courts greater freedom to grant restraining orders when violent partners are prosecuted.
“Abused women will now be able to obtain protection without having to go to a separate court or to find the funding to pay for civil orders. The restraining orders can be put in place for an indefinite period of time if necessary providing ongoing protection.
“However, Refuge is still concerned that this initiative will only be as good as the people who are enforcing it. So often court orders are not recorded on police computers and breaches of orders are not always taken seriously.
“The new restraining orders can only be issued by the courts when a violent partner is convicted or acquitted. The police can impose bail conditions at the time of arrest but bail conditions are often breached and not rigorously enforced, thereby leaving a woman vulnerable in the time leading up to trial.
“There are numerous examples of men who have breached such bail conditions with impunity and have been left free to murder their partners. Refuge would like to see bail conditions such as a non-contact condition pending trial much more rigorously enforced. Every week two women are killed by a current or former partner and 10 women commit suicide to escape domestic abuse.”