The prime minister yesterday took to social media to confirm via Twitter that the government was ‘fully committed’ to reintroducing new legislation to protect victims of domestic abuse following concerns that it, together with major overhaul to divorce law, had both been axed as a result of Parliament’s suspension earlier this week.
Prorogation has the effect of suspending all existing bills making their way through Parliament, unless the government chooses to carry them over to the next session beginning on 14 October. When Parliament returns on this date, although any dropped bills can be re-introduced, all progress made is lost and the process must start from scratch.
The government chose to carry over three pieces of legislation, dropping both the Domestic Abuse Bill and the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill. The Domestic Abuse Bill included the introduction of the first statutory definition of domestic abuse (including both financial and non-physical behaviour), the prohibition on perpetrators of abuse from cross-examining their victims in person in family courts and the introduction of a new Domestic Abuse Protection Notice and Domestic Abuse Protection Order.
Some of these proposed changes were initially tabled in the Prison and Courts Bill 2017, which was also abandoned when Theresa May called for the 2017 general election.
In response to the prorogation, women’s rights groups including Women’s Aid, Imkaan and the Centre for Women’s Justice wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister, urging him to ensure the Bill remains ‘a priority’ for the government’s next session. ‘Whatever happens next, the Prime Minister must confirm that protecting the rights and safety of survivors is a priority,’ said Nicki Norman, acting co-chief executive of Women’s Aid. ‘Over two years, thousands of survivors have bravely shared their experiences of domestic abuse with the government and fought to improve support for women and children. They must not be betrayed.’
Boris Johnson yesterday tweeted:
Domestic abuse shatters lives & tears families apart. We are fully committed to tackling this horrific crime – which is why the Queen's Speech will confirm we will be reintroducing domestic abuse legislation in the next session.
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) September 12, 2019
This news was closely followed by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)’s publication of an annual reportwhich shows a 15.1% fall prosecutions across domestic abuse, rape and sexual offences in 2018-19 (as covered on the Justice Gap here).
The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill was laid before parliament in June by former justice secretary David Gauke, who expressed his disappointment at its suspension over Twitter.
The Bill allowed divorcing couples to provide a statement of the irretrievable breakdown of their marriage, which could be made jointly or separately. It also removed the possibility of contesting a divorce, as this statement could be considered as conclusive evidence.
Jo Edwards, chair of the familylawyers’ group Resolution, commented: ‘It’s obviously incredibly frustrating, given the support from politicians across the House, the judiciary, and the public, as well as Resolution members like myself. The argument for no fault divorce has been put and won, and it’s simply down to wider events in Westminster and elsewhere that the Bill is not continuing its smooth passage through Parliament.’
However,Edwards added that, ‘given the wide support the Bill has so far enjoyed, together with the fact divorcing couples have waited for years for this reform’, the group was ‘optimistic that measures can be reintroduced quickly in a new Parliament’.