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Additional protection for victims of Domestic Violence to come into force
Tuesday 25th February 2014
The Secretary of State for the Home Department Theresa May announced in November last year in her statement to Parliament her intention to roll out nationally domestic violence protection orders and the domestic violence disclosure scheme across England and Wales. These are due to commence in March 2014.
Sahida Ahmed, head of the Family Law team at Marsden Rawsthorn comments on how this additional protection will help her team to deal with victims of domestic violence during legal proceedings.
“Domestic violence protection orders (DVPO’s) are a new power and are due to be introduced next month as part of the Crime and Security Act 2010. The order enables the police to put in place protection for the victim in the immediate aftermath of a domestic violence incident. Under DVPOs, the perpetrator can be prevented from returning to a residence and from having contact with the victim for up to 28 days. This allows the victim a level of breathing space to consider their options, with the help of a support agency and/or legal advisors and provides the victim with immediate protection which makes it easier for them to consider the legal options available in respect of the relationship. If appropriate, the process can be run in tandem with criminal proceedings.”
“Dealing with victims of violent partners is always a difficult matter, and finding ways to protect our clients during the proceedings can sometimes be quite challenging. In this day and age with a slow economy, high unemployment and reduced legal aid and lack of Government funding for family matters, many women are trapped in situations such as having to share residence in the family home with the offender due to limited finances or the unaffordable cost of one of them moving out. Having the power to ensure that an abusive partner can be prevented from immediately returning to the home after an incident, is a liberating and welcoming move.
“In many cases if the abuser is able to return to the family home after a violent incident, they are able to encourage the victim to sometimes retract their accusations or their decision to pursue their complaint to the police. It also gives the opportunity for the abuser to reinstate their controlling role in the relationship and continue the vicious circle of abuse. As legal advisers we are in a better position to assist the victim to make clearer decisions about what course of action they wish to make both legally and regarding the relationship as a whole if they can have this critical “breathing space”. There is no doubt this is a positive and more productive way to ensure the right outcome is achieved for the victim.
“At present the only option in the absence of an arrest by the police, to exclude the abuser from the property, was to apply for an occupation order which requires an application on notice to the court supported by a statement detailing the reasons as to why the perpetrator should be excluded and that he/she would be able to make alternative arrangements for accommodation. This costly and drawn out procedure leaves victims in a very vulnerable position. By taking out the lead time and enabling the police to be able to implement the new protection immediately for the victim, reduces the risk of further domestic violence and also ensures less disruption to the victim and to any children involved. They will be able to remain in the family home, within their familiar surroundings and with the least amount of disruption.
"In contrast, before an occupation order can be applied for it usually becomes necessary for the victim and children to be moved to a safe house before any application can progress to exclude the perpetrator so to ensure safety in the interim. The new provisions will prevent the necessity for victims to seek refuge in the interim. The new legislation subsequently will hopefully take some of the strain off women’s refuges and related social services, already under considerable pressure due to lack of funding.
“Most services available to victims of domestic violence come from charitable organisations which have little or no Government funding. Although the new legislation will go some way to protect victims in the immediate aftermath of an incident of domestic violence it does not necessarily prevent it from recurring – the main area that requires close consideration is to assist victims in the longer term through such means as therapeutic work such as the Freedom Project enabling victims to recover both physically and mentally and become more confident in making better life decisions and hopefully avoid being drawn into repetitive abusive relationships.
“The second of the two new plans to be introduced is the domestic violence disclosure scheme, which introduces a framework with recognised and consistent processes to enable the police to disclose to the public information about previous violent offending by a new or existing partner where this may help protect them from further violent offending. The DVDS introduces two types of process for disclosing this information. The first is triggered by a request by a member of the public (‘right to ask’). The second is triggered by the police where they make a proactive decision to disclose the information in order to protect a potential victim (‘right to know’). Both processes can be implemented within existing legal powers.
“The domestic violence disclosure scheme is critical in order to cater for the modern way people enter relationships. With more and more individuals entering into relationships via the internet, Facebook, online dating websites and chat rooms, particularly for divorcees, many people are exposing themselves to predators by going online and dating people they hardly know. Potential abusers take advantage of such means to contact vulnerable people and sadly the relationship that ensues may become quite established before the victim discovers they are in a relationship with an abuser. There is no doubt that this open preventative measure is also very important to protect children.
“It is questionable as to how this disclosure process will be implemented but hopefully it will ensure vulnerable women are protected from entering into abusive relationships with people they barely know and exposing their children to total strangers.
“We welcome these planned changes and the positive means by which it will enable us to support victims of abuse and prevent them from entering future abusive relationships."
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