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PUTTING VICTIMS FIRST: PUBLICATION OF THE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, CRIME AND VICTIMS BILL

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The biggest overhaul of domestic violence law in 30 years, heralding ...
The biggest overhaul of domestic violence law in 30 years, heralding

tough powers for the police and the courts to protect victims and

prosecute abusers, was set out today by home secretary David

Blunkett.

Proposals in the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill, along

with a raft of other measures announced today that do not need

legislation, would strengthen the rights of victims and witnesses,

ensuring they receive the help, support and protection they need.

They build on the government's ongoing reform of the criminal justice

system, rebalancing the process in favour of victims and witnesses.

The Bill also contains two new measures to close legal loopholes and

deal with offenders who currently escape justice. Parents co-accused

of their child's murder would be unable to escape punishment by

remaining silent or blaming each other. Also, criminals who commit so

many crimes that they cannot be dealt with in one trial will no

longer escape full punishment - a particular problem in cases such as

theft, fraud, counterfeiting and internet child pornography.

The radical package of reforms includes: a penalty of up to five

years in jail for breaking a non-molestation order; giving courts the

power to impose a restraining order where a defendant has been

acquitted but the court believes the victim needs protection; a new

code of practice for victims giving them statutory rights for the

first time and a new independent commissioner for victims, giving

them a voice and influence at the heart of policy making.

Mr 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. This largely hidden, much under-reported crime tears

apart the lives of far too many families, terrorising and brutalising

them in their own home - the very place they should feel safe.

'The government is determined to tackle domest ic 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.

'Victims and witnesses need support, and I am committed to ensuring

that they get it. We are radically overhauling the criminal justice

system to rebalance it in their favour. The measures I have announced

today will build on those in the Criminal Justice Act. They will put

victims and witnesses at the very heart of the system - helping to

give them the confidence to come forward and report crimes, to give

them and their families the support they need, and to help convict

the guilty.'

Constitutional affairs secretary Lord Falconer said:

'These proposals confirm the government's commitment to putting

victims at the heart of the criminal justice system. Victims of

domestic violence should be confident that the courts will put their

needs first and have the powers to give swift and effective

protection. The measures contained in this Bill will do just that,

making it easier for victims to seek and get help from abusive,

violent partners.'

Solicitor general Harriet Harman said:

'There is no excuse for domestic violence. The Domestic Violence,

Crime and Victims Bill is a tough new law which will protect women

and offer violent men a choice: stop the violence or you will face

prison.'

Measures in the Bill include:

- Significant new police powers to deal with domestic violence

including making it an arrestable, criminal offence to breach a

non-molestation order, with penalty of up to five years in prison.

- Making common assault an arrestable offence.

- Stronger legal protection for victims by extending the use of

restraining orders - giving courts the power to impose a restraining

order where the def endant has been acquitted but the court believes

an order is necessary to protect the victim.

- Providing a code of practice, binding on all criminal justice

agencies, so that all victims receive the support, protection,

information and advice they need.

- Allowing victims to take their case to the parliamentary ombudsman

if they felt the Code had not been adhered to by the criminal justice

agencies.

- Setting up an independent commissioner for victims to give victims

a powerful voice at the heart of government and to safeguard and

promote the interests of victims and witnesses, encouraging the

spread of good practice and reviewing the statutory code.

- Amending the Harassment Act 1997 to ensure that victims have their

say if an application is made to change a restraining order that is

protecting them from abuse or harassment.

- Strengthening the civil law on domestic violence so that

cohabiting same-sex couples have the same protection as heterosexual

couples, and extending the availability of non-molestation orders to

couples who have never lived together or have never been married.

- Creating a new offence of familial homicide for causing or

allowing the death of child or vulnerable adult.

- Bringing in the Law Commission recommendation for a two stage

court trial to ensure that high volume crimes like fraud and internet

child pornography can be punished in full.

- Reform to defences to homicide - including provocation.

The government also announced today:

- The creation of a register of civil orders to allow the police to

check for outstanding orders against an alleged offender so they can

take immediate action to protect the victim;

- The allocation of £6,582,247 over three years to a number of national

and local projects and initiatives, including funding to help Crime

and Disorder Reduction Partnerships (CDRPs) improve local action to

tackle domestic vio lence.

- The launch of the joint government, Comic Relief, Refuge and

Women's Aid Federation of England 24 hour freephone Domestic Violence

helpline before Christmas.

Notes

1. The Bill is available at www.parliament.co.uk

2. 'Safety and Justice' the domestic violence consultation paper was

published in June. Consultation

ended on 12 September, and responses will be published shortly. The

provisions for victims in the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims

Bill build on the 'Justice for All' White Paper published on 17 July

2002 and the booklet 'A Better Deal

for Victim's and Witnesses' published on 21 November 2002 and the 'National Strategy for Victims

and Witnesses', published on 22 July 2003.

3. The Criminal Justice Act which also puts victims at the heart of

the criminal justice system received Royal Assent on Thursday 20

November.

4. A summary of the responses to Safety and Justice are also

published today alongside the Bill and can be found at

www.homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk/xxxxx

5. The £6,582,257 allocation announced today, includes £6,134,247 to

fund local delivery over three years for each Government Office and

Wales and will fund a range of initiatives including domestic

violence co-ordinators. The funding announced is part of the £14m

announced by the Home Secretary in March to tackle domestic violence.

6. The remaining allocation will fund the following:

- £120,000 to the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transexual (LGBT) Helpline.

- £228,000 for the Watch Over Me Video. Following the success of the

first 'Watch Over Me' video launched by the Home Secretary to promote

personal safety after the death of Millie Dowler, the Home Office is

funding a second video which will address the issues of domestic

violence and forced marriage.

- £50,000 to the RESPECT - Perpetrator Helpline. The grant to

Respect (the National Association for Domestic Violence Perpetrator

Programmes And Associated Support Services) will provide a National

Perpetrator Helpline to address issues specifically related to

interventions with perpetrators focused on increasing the safety of

women and children experiencing domestic violence.

7. Domestic Violence accounts for almost a quarter of all violent

crime. British Crime Survey Claire Flood-Page and Joanna Taylor

(eds.), Crime in England and Wales 2001/2002: Supplementary Volume

(London: Home Office, 2003), p. 55.

8. The Law Commission's report, of October 2002, on the effective

prosecution of multiple offending considered the various problems

that can arise in cases where the offending conduct of the defendant

is repeated so many times that there are too many individual offences

to be accommodated in a single jury trial.

Previously, these sorts of cases could satisfactorily be dealt with

by means of specimen counts, in order to ensure that the trial would

be manageable for a jury. Upon conviction, the judge would sentence

on the basis that the counts upon which the defendant had been found

guilty were samples of the much larger number of offences committed.

The defendant could thus be sentenced to a term commensurate with the

totality of his or her offending.

However, a recent Court of Appeal decision (Kidd & ors. (1998)) has

stopped this practice, on the basis that it improperly involves

sentence without trial. As a result, these sorts of cases must

currently be tried on a limited number of counts, in order to make

them manageable for a jury. This has the grave consequence that the

vast majority of such offending cannot now be prosecuted and

sentenced, due to the insurmountable difficulty of prosecuting tens,

or even hundreds, of individual counts. The offender thus escapes

appropriate sanction. Under the new proposals, there would be a

general right of appeal against the judge's decision to grant a

prosecution application t o use the two stage procedure, and the judge

would be required to give a reasoned verdict where the second stage

resulted in further convictions.

9. The provisions contained within the Bill complement the

government's ongoing commitment to improving services for victims of

crime. The government has already:

- Introduced a national telephone helpline for victims (through

Victim Support);

- Introduced a support service for victims and witnesses in

magistrates' courts to match the service already provided in the

Crown Court (through Victim Support);

- Introduced victim personal statements (in October 2001);

- Improved payments made by the criminal injuries compensation

scheme to the victims of sexual offences;

- Given victims in serious cases the right to be consulted about the

release plans of their offenders.

- Implemented the deployment of Family Liason Officers by the police

in homicide cases;

- Established Multi Agency Protection Panels - the police, probation

and others working together to ensure protection for individual

victims;

- Implemented special measures making it easier and safer for

vulnerable and intimidated witnesses to give evidence

- Established a new Victims' Advisory Panel (in March 2003) to

provide a victim perspective at the heart of policy making.

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