Domestic Abuse Bill

I congratulate everybody who has brought this bill to this point.

I would like to outline a few of the things which I think could still be done to improve this Bill.

First, we must ensure that community services are supported, so that survivors of abuse can remain in their homes and communities—many noble Lords have mentioned this. Refuges are only part of the story, and it is manifestly unfair that survivors are driven out of their homes, and children out of their schools, while the perpetrator stays in the family home. This probably needs some work.

We have to introduce the new offence of unlawful strangulation as an either-way offence to recognise the particular harm and risk posed by offenders who strangle another person. Common assault is insufficient to deter and punish this behaviour, which often does not leave any visible harm—and I will of course be voting for the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, when that comes up.

We have to reverse the legal aid cuts so that non-means-tested legal aid is available for all domestic abuse cases, so that survivors can obtain justice in the civil, criminal and family courts.

We must introduce reporting restrictions in domestic abuse cases similar to those in place for sexual offences, so that survivors are not exposed to further harm by having intimate details published. Section 49 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 is just not sufficient here.

We must implement and fund specialist training for all police forces and other agencies to properly understand domestic abuse and to overcome their own inherent views, behaviours and biases on the issue. At the moment, police forces can pay for their own training, but the Government should encourage this and it should be part of basic training. I spoke about such training to a police officer who I have worked with extensively, Detective Chief Superintendent Andy Cox, who is now in Lincolnshire police force. SafeLives provides this training, and he has immediately actioned it so that Lincolnshire Police will have that training.

We must also end the presumption of contact in family law, which can result in children being forced to have contact with an abusive parent. I also thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, was right in saying that the elderly also suffer this sort of abuse. If she decides to table an amendment, I will vote for it.

It strikes me that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, said, this is a good Bill, but it can be a great one if we amend it. The Government must listen and accept that, although there will be later opportunities to improve the Bill, improving it now will be the quickest, safest and most effective way of ending this toxic behaviour.

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