Women’s Aid statement on the Royal Assent of the domestic abuse bill
Farah Nazeer, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid Federation of England, said
“Four years after the domestic abuse bill was first promised in the Queen’s Speech, it has finally become law, and today we would like to pay tribute to the many survivors, campaigners and domestic abuse organisations who have made this new law possible.
The fact that it has been delivered following two general elections, the prorogation of parliament, and a global pandemic, is a testament to the commitment of everyone involved – from the MPs who stood up for survivors, to our Experts by Experience who bravely shared their experiences of domestic abuse in Westminster as part of our Law in the Making project.
During this time, Women’s Aid has welcomed the opportunity to work with women who have survived abuse, our member services, sister organisations, and other charities as well as the government and parliament, to deliver a step change through this legislation in the response to domestic abuse.
We have seen results – strengthened protection in the family courts, recognition of children as victims in their own right, a guarantee that survivors escaping domestic abuse will be in ‘priority need’ for housing, a legal duty on councils to fund support in safe accommodation, and many more.
However, the new Act has significant gaps, and not all women will be protected by the new law. Despite the tireless campaigning of Southall Black Sisters, the Step Up Migrant Women campaign led by the Latin American Women’s Rights Service and the End Violence Against Women Coalition, the government has failed to deliver equal protection and support for migrant women through the new law.
All survivors must have the right to seek help, and live a life free from abuse. We will continue to campaign for the law to protect all women and children from domestic abuse, and provide safety from abusers regardless of immigration status.
There is a further omission in the Act. Despite having a statutory duty on local authorities to fund support in ‘accommodation based’ services. it does not use the word “refuge” at all. We are disappointed that the Act does not go further in delivering the changes survivors and our life saving network of member services need.
We now need the guidance and regulations underpinning this duty to make crystal clear that local authorities must fund under this important duty specialist women’s refuges, which deliver expert support to survivors and their children.
An urgent reform of the family court response to domestic abuse also remains a key priority for survivors. As our Survivor Ambassador Claire Throssell MBE has said, there is a ‘deadly culture’ in the family courts, which too often leads to unsafe child contact arrangements.
Whilst the legislation will improve protection for survivors within court rooms, it does nothing to change the ‘pro-contact’ culture of the family justice system. The Ministry of Justice’s report in 2020 concluded that the family courts do not effectively protect many child and adult victims of domestic abuse from further harm, and we know the devastating impacts this has on the lives of women and children experiencing domestic abuse.
The Act is a “once in a generation opportunity” but now we have to see how it translates on the ground. It needs to be used throughout society, at every point where survivors need help – from the police to children’s social care, health, the courts, and more.
The lessons from previous legislation are clear – unless the law comes with training for professionals, resources and a clear implementation plan, it will not improve responses to survivors.
Royal Assent is an important moment, but rather than being the end of the work needed, this provides us with a beginning. The legislation needs to now translate to action to provide the changes that survivors need to see.”