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Responding To Domestic Abuse Bill: A Call To Faith Communities

The government has launched a consultation on domestic abuse, in an attempt to find new and more relevant laws and tougher powers to safeguard and assist adult and child survivors. Its aim is to restructure how this social pandemic has been tackled in all spheres – for a generation.

Domestic abuse is a pandemic that occurs in faith communities, like in all groups of society. However, in these environments it is more complex as it is often found co-existing with spiritual abusechild sexual abuse, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, and honour-based violence. Despite this tragic context, it is known that responses to domestic abuse are too often very poor with experiences of adult and child survivors compounded by the accepted norms in the institutions of worship. Those who are taking plausible measures are too few and far between.

We call on all faith communities to participate in this consultation as a way of shifting from the generally known traditions and cultures that compromise, the effectiveness of assistance offered to survivors and the appropriateness of responses towards perpetrators. It is no longer the time to impede survivors from seeking help, but to contribute to the building up of long term solutions, while being creative about use of existing human and practical resources for the benefit of survivors. Applying the law is a fundamental process in any framework for tackling domestic abuse in faith communities, promoting consistent approaches that prioritise the multi-dimensional needs of adult and child survivors.

This consultation is an opportunity to obtain further understanding on the lived experiences of survivors more comprehensively, as its examination is inclusive of wide-ranging areas of domestic abuse. Therefore in your participation, it would be important to use  knowledge of contemporary and longstanding challenges in faith communities to influence how legislation can accommodate the compounded needs of survivors in faith communities – in the areas addressed.

Domestic abuse is a crime and where survivors are compassionately supported, perpetrators will be brought to justice – instead of the condoning of abusive behaviours and using tactics that harbour perpetrators in religious environments. Perpetrators are the key agents of domestic abuse, and are entirely accountable for all their behaviours, and attitudes that support this reality will assist faith communities to experience a movement in their address of domestic abuse, in time with society.

The consultation ends on 31 May 2018 at 12:15am. Participate in consultation here …

Joint Home Secretary and Justice Secretary foreword

Originally published by Ministry of Justice, 8 March 2018

All forms of violence and abuse are unacceptable but it is particularly shocking when it is carried out by those who are supposedly closest to the victims, and by those who profess to love the very people that they subject to terrible psychological, emotional and physical abuse. Domestic abuse impacts on victims’ everyday lives, can feel inescapable and have devastating inter-generational consequences on children.

Both women and men are victims of domestic abuse, and this consultation seeks views on how we can best support all of those affected. However, we know that a disproportionate number of victims are womenespecially in the most severe cases. This is why the government’s approach to domestic abuse is framed within the Violence Against Women and Girls strategy, which has proved effective.

This Government is committed to doing everything we can to end domestic abuse. To achieve this we need to build a society that has zero tolerance towards domestic abuse and actively empowers victims, communities and professionals to confront and challenge it. We are determined to ensure victims feel safe and supported, both to seek help and to rebuild their lives.

We also want to challenge and change the attitudes that can underpin domestic abuse to prevent it from happening in the first place. To do this we need to break the silence and encourage people to talk more openly about the issue. We want to ensure that perpetrators are held responsible for their actions and are brought to justice in a way that properly recognises the devastating consequences of their behaviour. We also need to ensure all professionals have the knowledge, tools and guidance to intervene earlier to protect victims before abuse escalates, and where possible rehabilitate offenders to prevent reoffending.

Finally, we need to ensure that the response victims receive, and the action taken to punish and rehabilitate offenders, is not a postcode lottery. We know that some areas have already introduced innovative and effective programmes to both support victims and their families and prevent domestic abuse happening, but we know these approaches are not widespread enough. Our ambition is that all areas rise to the level of the best, and that services reform further and faster to meet the needs of those experiencing abuse and violence.

This consultation seeks views on a number of specific measures that we set-out in the Queen’s speech, as well as views on other steps that we can take forward through future domestic abuse legislation. But we also wholly recognise that it will take more than new laws to help victims and survivors rebuild their lives and to combat this insidious harm. The consultation accordingly also sets out, and seeks views on, the steps we can take to raise awareness, support victims, and ensure perpetrators are stopped.

We want this consultation to stimulate a national conversation on how to prevent and tackle domestic abuse. We will continue to work closely with support organisations that do excellent work supporting victims and will be holding a series of events across the country to capture as many views and experiences as possible.

We are optimistic that by working together we can better prevent, protect and support victims of domestic abuse.

The Rt Hon Amber Rudd MP, Home Secretary                   

The Rt Hon David Gauke MP, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Read more …   

 

Participate in consultation here…

Sentencing Council publishes new guideline on domestic abuse

Originally published by the Sentencing Council, 22 February 2018

A new domestic abuse sentencing guideline has been published today (22 February), giving courts up to date guidance that emphasises the seriousness of this kind of offending.

The guideline identifies the principles relevant to the sentencing of cases involving domestic abuse, outlines how the seriousness of offences should be assessed and highlights other factors that should be taken into account.

There is no specific crime of domestic abuse – it can be a feature of many offences, such as assault, sexual offences or harassment. (There is an offence of controlling and coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship which the Council is working on a guideline for and will be published in the summer). The guideline aims to ensure that the seriousness of these offences is properly taken into account when such offences are being sentenced and that sufficient thought is also given to the need to address the offender’s behaviour and prevent reoffending.

The new guideline replaces a domestic violence guideline which was published in 2006. A great deal has changed since then in terms of societal attitudes, expert thinking and terminology. Guidance for courts was therefore in need of revision to bring it up to date. ‘Domestic abuse’ is now the term used, rather than ‘domestic violence’, to reflect that offences can involve psychological, sexual, financial or emotional abuse as well as physical violence.

The new guideline brings a distinct change in emphasis in relation to seriousness. The previous guideline stated that offences committed in a domestic context should be seen as no less serious than those in a non-domestic context, whereas the new guideline emphasises that the fact an offence took place in a domestic context makes it more serious. This is because domestic abuse is rarely a one-off incident, it is likely to become increasingly frequent and more serious the longer it continues, and may result in death. It can also lead to lasting trauma for victims and their children.

For the first time, the guideline also includes a reference to abuse which is perpetrated through use of technology, such as email/text, social networking sites or tracking devices fitted to a victim’s car, since these are increasingly common methods by which domestic abuse can occur.

The guidelines recognise that these offences can affect people of all backgrounds and the guideline is also clear that abuse can occur between family members as well as between intimate partners.

The publication of the guideline follows a public consultation and a number of changes were made to the guideline as a result. In particular, there is now additional guidance on restraining orders, along with new guidance on Victim Personal Statements.

In relation to restraining orders, the guideline now includes additional guidance to assist the court with a renewed focus on keeping the victim safe, particularly for those who continue or resume their relationship with the offender.

The guideline further reminds courts to take any Victim Personal Statement (VPS) into account, but that where there is no VPS, this is not an indication of any lack of harm to the victim.

The consultation also covered proposed new guidelines for a variety of ‘intimidatory’ offences, such as harassment, stalking, disclosing private sexual images, controlling or coercive behaviour, and threats to kill. The definitive guidelines for these offences will be published separately this summer.

Sentencing Council member Jill Gramann said:

“Domestic abuse comes in many forms such as harassment, assault and sex offences. The increasing use of technology in offending has meant that it has also evolved in its scope and impact. The new guideline will ensure that courts have the information they need to deal with the great range of offending and help prevent further abuse occurring.”

“The guideline also emphasises that abuse can take place in a wide range of domestic settings and relationships, and that abuse can be psychological, sexual, financial or emotional as well as physical.”

The guideline will apply to all offenders aged 16 and older sentenced on or after 24 May 2018.

FULL GUIDELINE…

Also see:

Domestic abuse: tougher sentences recommended

Kahrmel Wellness 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Tackling DVA In Faith Communities: FOUNDATIONS FOR THE FUTURE

The Bishop of Durham – The Rt Revd Paul Butler, addressing conference delegates

On the 23rd of November 2017, we hosted an educational conference geared to empowering faith communities to tackle  Domestic Violence & Abuse (DVA) that occurs in their own  environments. The conference themed “Foundations For The  Future”, was set to lay out a mandate of key objectives to be urgently implemented by faith communities & professionals in addressing the social pandemic in this unique society group, given known challenges examined during the event.

This task was sealed by the signing of a declaration by the 80 delegates & invited guests in attendance, as an act of commitment to participating in the  eradication of DVA in faith communities over the long haul. Furthermore, delegates were inspired to set up DVA projects within their faith communities – stand alone or interdependent, to improve practical responses to the multi-dimensional plight of adult & child survivors.

Kudakwashe Nyakudya teaching best approaches & legal perspectives for tackling DVA in faith communities

Conference guest faith leaders were The Bishop of Durham – The Rt Revd Paul Butler, The Bishop Of The Order Of St Leonards – The Rt Revd Dr David Carr OBE, Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham – The Rt Revd William Kenney C.P., Founder of Imams Against Domestic Violence – Imam Abdullah Hasan, Chairperson Of  Warwick District Faiths Forum – Jatinder Birdi, Senior Pastor Of Zion City Tabernacle & Founder Of Not Another One – Windsor  Queensborough, Nottingham Liberal Jewish Synagogue Rabbi – Tanya Sakhnovich, & Safeguarding Lead Of Archdiocese of Birmingham – Jane Jones. Expert speakers for the event were Dr Lisa Oakley – Academic On Abuse Studies & Visiting  Fellow Bournemouth University, Damian Carnell – Trainer On Working With Perpetrators & Director Of End Gendered Abuse, & Kudakwashe Nyakudya – Consultant On DVA & Founding Director Of Kahrmel Wellness.

Faith leaders facilitating mandate discussion

The mandate laid out is a call for immediate action, for outcomes for adult & child survivors to start developing radically, with vision to extend its progress into the future. Its 24 key objectives include:

  1. For faith leaders to ensure that faith communities are safe spaces for victims/ survivors, encouraging & assisting them to seek support while challenging perpetrators
  2. For a general turnaround to be applied in the use of sacred texts – for texts that promote survivors’ welfare & freedom from abuse to be used, instead of those that  condemn them for seeking help or those normally misinterpreted by perpetrators to justify their abusive nature
  3. For judges, court advisors, & legal representatives to be trained on complex dynamics & cultural challenges in faith communities, & appropriate ways of working with this specific society group
  4. For spiritual healing – which is the linchpin for all round healing for adult & child survivors with a faith – to be facilitated in a safe worship environment

Delegates participating in mandate discussion

READ FULL MANDATE HERE…

The conference details…

Conference in pictures…

© Kahrmel Wellness 2017. All Rights Reserved.

MoJ scraps legal aid restrictions for victims of domestic violence

New rules removing time limit and allowing admission of fresh categories of evidence will come into force in January

Victims previously had to provide evidence of abuse within the past five years.Victims previously had to provide evidence of abuse within the past five years. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Time limits preventing victims of domestic violence from obtaining legal aid for court hearings will be scrapped from January, the Ministry of Justice has announced.

The heavily criticised restrictions, which have resulted in large numbers of women confronting abusive ex-partners without representation, will also be relaxed to accept evidence from victim support organisations.

The changes deliver on signals that the system would be reformed given by the MoJ and revealed by the Guardian earlier this year.

Confirming the new guidelines for the Legal Aid Agency, the justice minister, Dominic Raab, said: “We have listened to victims’ groups and carefully reviewed the criteria for legal aid for victims of domestic abuse in family cases.

“These changes make sure that vulnerable women and children get legal support so their voice is properly heard in court.”

Legal aid has usually been available to victims of domestic violence and child abuse, or those deemed at risk, as long as they could provide evidence of abuse within the past five years.

Removal of the five-year limit and admission of fresh categories of evidence will help large numbers of women and some men who have been deprived of legal advice and representation in family court disputes over custody and contact with children.

The narrow evidence requirements were first imposed under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (Laspo) Act of 2012. The MoJ has launched a broader, formal review of the impact of the legislation on access to justice.

The new regulations will be detailed in a statutory instrument put before parliament this week.

Statements from domestic violence support organisations and housing support officers will in future be accepted as evidence of past abuse, as well as those from social services, law enforcement agencies and medical professionals.

Earlier this year the government announced a £17m fund to support 41 projects across the country to tackle violence against women and girls.

Steve Hynes, the director of the Legal Action Group who has campaigned against legal aid cuts, welcomed the change: “It’s taken a long time because of the general election and other delays. I’m very pleased they have made the announcement.

“They realised it’s a priority. It wasn’t working. Women who experienced domestic violence were not qualifying [for representation]. The amount of civil legal aid granted has fallen by 80% since Laspo was introduced.”

Elspeth Thomson, chair of the legal aid committee at the family law organisation Resolution, said: “We’ve been calling for changes to the evidence gateway since Laspo was implemented in 2013 and welcome this news. Parliament has committed to protect victims of domestic abuse so ministers have a duty to ensure that those who need legal aid are able to access it.

“These changes, made in consultation with Resolution and others, are a step in the right direction, allowing the justice system to better support at-risk and vulnerable people at perhaps the most difficult time of their lives – when the family unit is breaking down.

“Ultimately, these are real people, not statistics, and we must protect them and their access to the justice system.”

Estelle du Boulay, the director of the Rights of Women, said: “The changes … will make a significant difference to women experiencing or at risk of domestic abuse to access legal aid in private family law cases.

“The previous system was so clearly unjust, leaving many genuine survivors unable to access the legal aid they were entitled to, because the evidence requirements were narrow, onerous and unrealistic.

“We fought the government through the courts to bring in these reforms. We are particularly grateful to the many women survivors who provided testimony that enabled us to prove our case. Their voices have finally been listened to today.”

Cris McCurley, a family law lawyer at the law firm Ben Hoare Bell who has sat on the independent advisory group helping the MOJ throughout the review process, said: “In spite of the UN convention on the elimination of discrimination against women committee ruling that the [UK] government had to urgently review and ensure victims of violence would get legal aid for private family law proceedings in October 2013, these changes have only come about as a result of the hard work, dedication and courage of Rights of Women in pursuing their case against the MOJ on domestic violence eligibility for legal aid all the way to the court of appeal.”

The president of the Law Society of England and Wales, Joe Egan, said: “Legal aid is a lifeline for those who have suffered abuse. It is often the only way someone can bring their case before the courts. Today’s positive decision is the end result of work the Law Society and other organisations have been doing with the MoJ for many months.”

Sophie Walker, the leader of the Women’s Equality party, said:“The Ministry of Justice’s decision to lift these damaging restrictions on legal aid is welcome – and long overdue.

“Too many women have been denied justice over the last seven years as a result of the government’s short-sighted cuts.”

Link to original article

Also see:

Evidence tests relaxed for domestic violence legal aid

 

Bill published to end cross-examination of domestic violence victims by perpetrators

court-room-pic

By Family Law Week, 23 February 2017

The Government has published a Prisons and Courts Bill which, amongst other matters, seeks to put an end to domestic violence victims being cross-examined by their alleged attackers in the family courts, preventing what the Justice Secretary has described as a “humiliating and appalling” practice. This follows an urgent review she commissioned last month.

A fact sheet, published by the Ministry Of Justice and explaining the changes states:

“The proposed provisions will allow courts to put an end to the face-to-face crossexamination of vulnerable witnesses in the family courts, so that people who need to be heard are not afraid of speaking out.

For example, a party to family proceedings who has been convicted of committing an assault against the witness will not be allowed to put questions to that witness directly. The court must consider if there is a satisfactory alternative way of obtaining the evidence. If the court concludes that there is not, then it may appoint a publicly-funded legal representative to undertake the cross-examination.

The provisions will have the practical effect of:

a. introducing a blanket ban on cross-examination in person in certain specified circumstances – for example, where the would-be questioner has been convicted of committing a violent or sexual offence against the witness;

b. giving the court a discretion to prohibit such cross-examination in other specified circumstances – for example, where the court is satisfied that such cross-examination would cause significant distress to the witness;

c. requiring the court to consider alternatives to cross-examination where a prohibition on cross-examination in person applies;

d. giving the court a power in specified circumstances to appoint a funded legal representative to ask questions on behalf of a party who is prohibited from cross-examining in person; and

e. making provision for the public funding of such legal representatives.”

The Bill inserts into the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984 a new Part 4B entitled ‘Family Proceedings: Prohibition of Cross-examination in Person’. For those provisions, click here.

The Bill received its First Reading on 23 February 2017 and will receive its Second Reading on a date to be appointed.

The Family Procedure Rule Committee has also launched a consultation in respect of a draft Practice Direction 3AA relating to the participation in proceedings of, and giving evidence by vulnerable persons. For more details, click here.

The Ministry of Justice has published a research study exploring how the family judiciary manage cases with the cross-examination of vulnerable or intimidated witnesses by alleged perpetrators of abuse, and establishing what, if any, further provisions could be considered to support them in doing so. For that document, click here.

Also see:

Factsheet: Prohibition of cross-examination in person in specified circumstances in family proceedings

Full Bill: Prisons and Courts Bill (HC Bill 145)

Alleged perpetrators of abuse as litigants in person in private family law: The cross-examination of vulnerable and intimidated witnesses

 

Theresa May’s Plans To Transform How Domestic Violence & Abuse Is Tackled

theresa-may

Prime Minister Theresa May announced plans for a major programme of work leading towards bringing forward a Domestic Violence and Abuse Act.

Originally Published By UK Home Office, 17 February 2017

Theresa May has today announced plans to transform the way we think about and tackle domestic violence and abuse – one of the most widespread and heinous offences, but one where victims are often let down by the legal system.

Domestic violence and abuse shatters lives but the way we deal with it at the moment does not go far enough – with a plethora of different offences and procedures scattered across the statute book.

This lack of clarity has led to an unacceptable diversity across the country in terms of the degree of effort put in to try and tackle it. Although the prosecution of, and convictions for, such offences have started to improve in recent years, there is inconsistency in the use and effectiveness of the various law enforcement measures across the country.

In recognition of this, the Prime Minister has announced plans for a major new programme of work leading towards bringing forward a Domestic Violence and Abuse Act.

The programme of work will look at what more can be done to improve support for victims especially in the way the law, and legal procedures, currently work for such victims. Experts in this area will be invited to contribute ideas and proposals for improving the way the system works which is likely to lead to legislation – making it much easier for law enforcement bodies to find and use more consistently the measures at their disposal. The Prime Minister will also ask for any potential ‘quick wins’ in the intervening period to be identified and acted upon. The Prime Minister will directly oversee this work, which will be truly cross-governmental – but co-ordinated by the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice.

Like the Modern Slavery Act, the Prime Minister believes that the measures that come out of this work will raise public awareness of the problem – as well as encourage victims to report their abusers and see them brought to justice.

Prime Minister Theresa May said:

Domestic violence and abuse is a life shattering and absolutely abhorrent crime; tackling it is a key priority for this government – and something I have always attached a personal importance to, both as Home Secretary and now as Prime Minister. I am clear that we need to build on the measures I introduced as Home Secretary – including the new offence of ‘Controlling and Coercive Behaviour’, Domestic Violence Protection Orders, and the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme – and ensure that no stone will be left unturned in delivering a system that increases convictions, and works better for victims.

She added:

I believe that the plans I have announced today have the potential to completely transform the way we think about and tackle domestic violence and abuse. There are thousands of people who are suffering at the hands of abusers – often isolated, and unaware of the options and support available to them to end it. Given the central importance of victim evidence to support prosecutions in this area, raising public awareness – as well as consolidating the law – will prove crucial.

Also see:

Theresa May: I want to transform how we think about domestic violence

Domestic violence: Theresa May to oversee new law

SafeLives welcomes ‘major overhaul’ of domestic abuse legislation