Domestic Violence Bill Features In The Queen’s Speech – But Will It Be Good Enough?

Theresa May at the Queen's Speech
Photo by Getty

Let’s face it. Theresa May’s hardly been a shining beacon of feminist hope since she took her place at No. 10. However, the PM clawed back a shred of credibility today after plans for a new Draft Domestic Violence And Abuse Bill were included in the Queen’s Speech.

May originally announced her intentions to oversee the Bill back in February, calling for tougher sentences on perpetrators and more effective court orders to protect survivors. Thankfully its inclusion in the Queen’s Speech, which outlines a timetable for legislation for the proceeding year in Parliament, shows a renewed commitment by the government to tackle domestic violence.

Women’s Aid CEO Polly Neate welcomed its inclusion, calling it a “once in a generation opportunity to overhaul the way we respond” to domestic violence.

“Women’s Aid is delighted that the Bill heeded our expert advice, based on 40 years of experience working with survivors and services,” she said in a statement. “We called for a much needed step-change and a Commissioner to oversee how domestic abuse is tackled locally. It is vital we see this Commissioner take overarching responsibility for actions and learning from the Domestic Homicide Reviews to prevent further killings.

“As we highlighted in our Child First campaign, domestic abuse can cause devastating harm to children and key changes must be made. We want to see a criminal and family justice system that reflects the long term harm that abusers have on children, with responsibility for this harm is placed firmly on the perpetrator and not the non-abusive parent.”

However, she went to make clear that the programme is delivered “alongside specialist training for the police and judiciary” and that survivors themselves are consulted as the Bill is developed.

Becca Bunce, co-director of IC Change UK, a volunteer-led group campaigning for the ratification of the Istanbul Convention (IC), was similarly pleased that the Bill was given space in the Queen’s Speech.

Even so, she expressed a wish for there to be similar action taken to tackle other forms of gender-based violence severely effecting women in the UK, such as rape, FGM and so-called honour-killings.

Extra-territorial jurisdiction also needs to be negotiated, she said, in order to protect British women abroad. This means women who are, for example, raped or beaten up in another country by a British citizen, can still receive justice in the UK. At the moment, many incidents of violence abroad are left uninvestigated as a result.

“It’s great that the government is taking steps to help end violence against women,” she told Shevolution UK. “However, right now horrendous crimes can be committed abroad by British citizens with impunity, as they cannot be tried back In the UK. We hope that as the government takes the Bill forward they ensure that this is corrected, and those who commit crimes abroad can be brought to justice.”

The Queen’s Speech comes weeks after a Bill to force the government to timetable the ratification of the IC – the gold standard in legislation to tackle all forms of violence against women in the UK – was passed into law. David Cameron originally signed a commitment to bringing UK law in line with the IC five years ago, but the Conservatives are yet to honour the promise.

Meanwhile, the Fawcett Society highlighted the importance of insuring that broader equality laws aren’t rolled back when Britain leaves the EU.

The gender equality campaigners also stressed that the plight of the WASPI women, many of whom have been forced to use food banks because of pension inequality, is not forgotten.

 

Here’s hoping that this step in a better direction for the protection of victims of domestic violence doesn’t mean the many other aspects of UK law that urgently need to be updated to protect and prevent all forms of violence and eradicate women’s equality aren’t swept under the carpet. We certainly won’t be staying quiet on the matter if they are.

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