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Domestic abuse to be defined in criminal law

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domestic abuse to be defined in criminal law‘It is high time that the criminal law was also amended’.

A new bill has been proposed which would make domestic abuse an offence with a possible prison sentence of up to 14 years.

Currently, domestic abuse is not specifically defined in criminal law and offenders are prosecuted for crimes such as rape or assault.

However, experts at the probation service union Napo suggest domestic abuse is rarely confined to just one incident and forms part of a pattern of behaviour.

The new plans, which have wide cross-party support amongst MPs, would provide a legal framework in which an offender’s pattern of behaviour could be examined and reflected in any sentences handed down.

“It is extraordinary that domestic abuse is not a criminal offence in the UK,” said Harry Fletcher, criminal justice expert and adviser to Napo, who drafted the bill.

He continued: “As a consequence reporting is low and behaviour is missed by workers in the justice system.

“Conviction rates are appallingly low at 6.5 per cent.

“The police and the Crown Prosecution Service tend to deal with the matter before them and not long-term, repetitive abusive behaviour.”

Supporters of the proposals believe a new law will encourage women to report abuse.

Research suggests that victims often only report abuse after 30 incidents, only 30 per cent of reports received by the police result in arrest and 16 per cent in a charge.

Under the new law, domestic abuse would be defined as “intentionally, wilfully or recklessly causing, or attempting to cause, physical injury or psychological harm to a person”.

In addition, a protective order would be introduced which would prohibit an abuser making any contact with their victim.

The new law is also the first time the psychological and physical aspects of domestic abuse will be specifically recognised in the criminal justice system.

“Domestic abuse is characterised by a catalogue of incidents, a pattern of behaviour which can include coercive control and emotional blackmail as well as physical violence,” said Elfyn Llwyd, the Plaid Cymru MP who is presenting the bill to parliament.

“It was positive that the Association of Chief Police Officers last year amended their definition of domestic abuse to have regard of this fact.

“But it is high time that the criminal law was also amended so that domestic abuse was made a criminal offence in its own right.”

Similar laws have been introduced in the USA, and reporting has increased by nearly 50 per cent, while incidents of violence have decreased by more than a third.

Statistics provided by the Home Office suggests 1.2 million women suffered domestic abuse in the UK last year, and 400,000 women were sexually assaulted; a fifth of them were victims of rape or attempted rape.

Research by the Citizens Advice Bureau suggests these statistics do not truly reflect the extent of domestic abuse in the UK.

Worryingly, the Citizens Advice Bureau reckons more than 500,000 victims and they are too frightened to report what has happened – is happening – to them.

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