The story shared by a domestic abuse victim on the BBC website this week made for depressing and depressingly familiar reading. In my experience Domestic abuse rears its very ugly head in a significant number of family law cases, particularly within children proceedings. Tackling the societal problem calls no doubt for a multi faceted approach in different areas including education and increasing public awareness. It seems some progress is being made in some areas, and the law has been taking steps to play its part more substantially. Coercive and controlling behaviour became a criminal offence in 2015. The fact that domestic abuse is also harmful to the children who live an abusive home is well researched and recognised in law. In children proceedings, the court is obliged at all stages to consider whether domestic abuse is raised as an issue in the case, and if it is, the court must take certain steps in conducting the case to ensure the children are safeguarded.

A potential further watershed moment has arrived this year with the Domestic Abuse Bill, introduced to parliament on 16 July. The new legislation will finally comprehensively define domestic abuse in law, and do away with the old misconception that abuse must be physical to be abuse. There are many forms of domestic abuse and each can have devastating consequences both for the victims and their children. Other key provisions of the new law include:

  • Proposals for a Domestic Abuse Commissioner to champion survivors and hold  local and national government to account on their actions;
  • Automatic eligibility for special measures to support more victims to give evidence in the criminal courts;
  • Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders, which would allow police and courts to intervene earlier where abuse is suspected;
  • Prohibiting the cross-examination of victims by their abusers in the family courts.

We can hope the new law will strengthen the support victims receive and the powers the police and courts have to try and protect them, including from the more surreptitious forms of abuse which have for so long been disregarded.  The impact of the new law - whether it does enough - will be closely monitored and doubtless there will need to be many more developments - in law and in wider society - in this new effort to tackle a very old crime.