Women’s Aid responds to changes to the justice system set out in The King’s Speech and how they will impact protecting survivors
Today we are asking whether new laws in the Kings Speech really deliver justice for women facing domestic abuse.
The Sentencing Bill will preserve judges’ power to send offenders who are at significant risk of causing physical or psychological harm to prison:
We welcome the news that the presumption against short sentences in the Sentencing Bill will not apply to those who are assessed as posing a risk of psychological and physical harm. We warned that many domestic abuse perpetrators receive short sentences, which are often below 12 months, and don’t reflect the scale and gravity of their crimes and the ongoing risk that the perpetrator poses to the survivor and her children.
However, we remain seriously concerned that this won’t be an automatic exemption for perpetrators of domestic abuse – it will rely on judges assessing that the offender would put another individual at “significant risk of harm”. This requires robust pre-sentencing reports, which are undertaken by the Probation Service. There remain serious concerns about the Probation Service’s current response to domestic abuse, assessment of risk, staffing shortages, lack of experience, poor supervision, training and understanding. We are therefore concerned that many abusers will not be assessed as presenting a significant risk of harm to women and children. Robust, in-depth training on domestic abuse for the Probation Service and the judiciary remains an urgent priority if this Bill is not to cause harm and further diminish the confidence of survivors in our justice system.
The Criminal Justice Bill does not do enough to tackle deep-rooted failings impacting survivors:
This Bill contains number of measures to tackle VAWG, but these alone will not resolve the systemic failings women experiencing domestic abuse face in the criminal justice system. Only one in five victims of domestic abuse report to the police, and we continue to see a downward spiral in domestic abuse prosecutions and convictions.
Multi agency management (MAPPA) for offenders convicted of coercive control signals that this crime, which is at the heart of domestic abuse, is being taken more seriously within our justice system – which is crucial given the links between coercive control and homicide. However, it is not yet clear which offenders convicted of ‘serious offences’ will be subject to MAPPA. Given only 1816 defendants have been convicted of this crime since its introduction in 2015 it is unclear how many women this will protect. Education and awareness raising on coercive control, and specialist training for all professionals in the justice system, is essential for driving up the identification and successful prosecution of this crime.
Integration, collaboration and utilising the experience of experts in the VAWG sector is vital:
Many survivors, particularly Black, minoritised and migrant women, do not trust the criminal justice system to protect them. Urgent changes to the family courts, housing, health and the social security system are needed to really improve protection and support for women and children experiencing domestic abuse. A “whole-system approach” to tackling VAWG must go beyond criminalising specific offences, with robust training across the public sector and efficient referral pathways, as well as utilising the expertise of specialist women-led and ‘by and for’ VAWG organisations. Read our manifesto for the 2024 General Election which sets out why a whole-system response must be a priority for all political parties.