Isabel Hardman Isabel Hardman

Ministers to rush out domestic abuse bill – but will Boris back it?

The Home Office has confirmed that it will publish the Domestic Abuse Bill tomorrow as Theresa May tries to secure her legacy at the very end of her premiership. Victims’ Minister Vicky Atkins told Home Office questions this afternoon that the legislation will move from draft form to legislation for scrutiny on the floor of the Commons.

The reason there is this rush is that May fears her successor wouldn’t pick up the Bill of their own accord. As I’ve blogged before, this is partly her fault because she delayed publication of the draft document for so long. But it is also because the legislation as proposed isn’t to everyone’s taste. It includes the first statutory definition of domestic abuse, and this goes far beyond the stereotype of a man beating his wife. You can read that full definition here (p.5 of the document), but the first paragraph gives a reasonable flavour:

‘Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexual orientation. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to: psychological, physical, sexual, economic and emotional forms of abuse.’

Coercive and controlling behaviour has been a criminal offence since 2015, and that law had its opponents. One of them, Claire Fox (now a Brexit MEP) wrote a piece for the magazine in 2016 about her misgivings about the civil liberty implications of this legislation – and the way The Archers had been used to promote it through the storyline of Helen and Rob. Some argue that it is so hard to police this law that it will end up including people who are merely in bad relationships, rather than ones with a criminal dynamic.

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