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Domestic Crime and Victims Act 2004 - advantages and disadvantages of new sections 17.07.07

On July 1st 2007, Sections 1 and 4 of the Domestic Violence Crime and Victims Act 2004 were implemented.  Section 4 extends the definition of those “associated persons” who may apply for non-molestation or occupation orders under Part IV of the Family Law Act 1996 to non-cohabiting couples who have had “an intimate relationship of significant duration”.  Under Section 1, a breach of a non-molestation order will become a criminal offence, which can be dealt with by the criminal courts  - rather than by the county (family) court where the original order was made.   This procedure will replace the power of arrest, which will no longer be attached to non-molestation orders.  

This process means that the woman becomes a witness in a criminal case rather than an applicant – and that potentially has both advantages and disadvantages.

The advantages of this change are that:

  • it relieves the woman herself of the burden of taking action 
  • it should provide a stronger sanction – particularly for those cases in which (in the past) a power of arrest has not been attached 
  • the woman is not liable for any costs of a prosecution.

The disadvantages are that:

  • it takes the process out of the woman’s hands, and the CPS will be able to pursue proceedings against her wishes – so it may be disempowering, and have consequences which she is powerless to stop 
  • she may be unhappy about criminalising her (ex-)partner – who may, for example, be the father of her children. This may be a particular concern for women from Black and Minority Ethnic communities, who are often particularly reluctant to seek help from the police, because of fear of racist or discriminatory treatment 
  • breaches of occupation/exclusion orders will not be a criminal offence – meaning that where an offender breaches both an occupation order and a non-molestation order (a relatively common situation), the woman will presumably be faced with appearance at two separate courts (except in those very few areas where there is one integrated Domestic Violence Court) 
  • criminal cases are normally open to the public and the press – in contrast to applications made in the family court, which are held in chambers (i.e. only people involved in the case are allowed in the room). Although there is a provision for reporting restrictions to protect the identity of victims/witnesses in criminal courts  (both magistrates’ and Crown courts), this has up to now been used only rarely in domestic violence cases 
  • if she chooses not to report a breach to the police (because of the above) legal aid may not be available for her to pursue committal proceedings in the county court .

It remains to be seen how the legislation will work in practice – for example, how seriously and effectively will the police and the courts treat breaches or court orders?  What sanctions will be applied by the courts?  And how effective will these be in preventing breaches and protecting women and children? Women’s Aid would like a more coherent and extensive long-term strategic framework for tackling domestic violence that would address all the measures needed to increase the safety of women and children.   All systems, policies and procedures should be monitored to see how they are working in practice.   The safety of women and children should be the paramount consideration at each and every stage of intervention.   Without such monitoring, we cannot draw any firm conclusions about the benefits and shortcomings of these new legislative provisions. View the Women's Aid briefing on the DVCVA.