The Legal Framework of Domestic Abuse in the UK

This article will explore the current key legislation related to domestic abuse, which involves the Domestic Abuse 2021, The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, and Part 10 of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, which speaks of forced marriage. Of course, this article should also focus on the Human Rights Act 1998, and Equality Act 2010 because domestic abuse is often gender-based violence, and the international community is against it; however, that is beyond the scope of this article, although the topic has already been raised in this blog (please read Women Who Are Mad, 2021). 

As explained before in this blog (Betshy, 2021), the Domestic Abuse Act 2021– in its statutory definition– only protects certain individuals in certain personal situations, and has limitations in including ‘friendships’ as a form of personal relationship. It includes in its scope physical violence, emotional abuse, and coercive control; however, it fully ignores the many forms of abuse that take place in day to day life in all sorts of settings, including employment, education, health and friendship settings. In other words, it does not fully cover what is known as ‘narcissistic abuse’, and what is known as ‘violence against women’. It is the start of a long process of reform to protect victims. It is a positive step nevertheless as it criminalises actions that until 2021 were socially acceptable such as emotional abuse. It protects victims who have engaged in coitus with a perpetrator, or relatives (including children) of perpetrators from domestic abuse. It commands protective measures, and procedural mechanisms for reacting to domestic abuse in support of the victim. It also ratifies Clare’s law, supports legal aid applications; and includes acts committed outside of the UK within the scope, and the establishment of injunctions. It also commands court-ordered treatments for the offender, and places duties upon the Secretary of State to publish a domestic abuse strategy. Finally, it involves the criminal courts. 

The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 makes it a crime to perform, or assist FGM whether in the UK or abroad. It also places a duty on parents and guardians to protect their children from this form of abuse, and failing to abide is classed as an offence.  It gives the power to the court to issue FGM protection orders, and places an obligation on regulated professionals to report FGM whenever they encounter it. Furthermore, the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, specifically part 10, makes forced marriage an offence in England. It covers both physical and psychological force, oversees procedures, and it stresses that only people with mental capacity can consent to marriage. It also gives power to the courts to issue a Forced Marriage Protection Orders, and the right to confidentiality for victims. However, Scott (2021) reported that children as young as seven years old were being given into marriage through religious procedures in the UK. This is problematic because the Equality Act 2010 protects religion, something that Summers (2021) described as a ‘legal loophole’. 

The Role of Statutory Agencies & Government Departments

When domestic abuse happens, statutory and government services are obliged to respond. Every agency and department has a role which is unique and tailored sometimes to specific populations, although many of these departments and agencies interact and collaborate. For instance, schools and colleges play a role in spotting domestic abuse through their safeguarding  systems. They are under the obligation to report domestic abuse to the local authorities when this is identified. Children’ Social Care services are often involved in cases of domestic abuse, and they have a responsibility to recognise the abuse and to support children and young people. They also conduct risk assessments and make sure that children are safe. Moreover, the Adult Social Care services are also involved, as many vulnerable adults get domestically abused, and their role is to assess care needs. They must be trained to spot domestic abuse when they encounter it, and must duly report it to the local authorities where warranted. Furthermore, the NHS has become the first point of contact for victims of abuse as they provide treatment. Their role is to treat injuries and trauma, and to signpost/refer affected individuals to other support services. What’s more, local authority housing departments have an obligation to ensure that those residing in safe accommodation have their needs met. 

Also, the Department for Work and Pensions have a duty to safeguard individuals who might be experiencing domestic abuse, and to signpost them to other support services. They also pay the benefits that individuals are entitled to. Moreover, the police are often involved in cases of domestic abuse and have to attend the crime scene. They should have an awareness of the topic, and also of the barriers to disclosure. They must report the cases to the local authorities for safeguarding in order to protect the victims involved. They must investigate, make arrests, apply injunctions where necessary, and collect the evidence for court. In other words, the police play a huge role between the crime being committed and the crime being prosecuted. Furthermore, the CPS is responsible for the prosecution of the perpetrator, and  courts are responsible for the effective issuing of injunctions, as well as of sentences. Also, the Prison and probation services have a role in conducting risk assessments to ensure that the victims are safe from the perpetrators, and incapacitating the offender from doing it again. Finally, local criminal justice boards are responsible for the coordination of agencies locally, and for implementing strategies to reduce crime rates. 

References

Betshy (2021) ‘Women Who Are Mad, 27 November’ [Online]. Available at https://betshy.com/2021/11/27/women-who-are-mad/ (accessed 26 February 2022). 

Scott, J. (2021) ‘MPs back raising minimum marriage age to 18 to protect children’, BBC News, 19 November [Online]. Available at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-59344731 (accessed 19 February 2022). 

Summers, H. (2021) ‘Child marriage “thriving in UK” due to legal loophole, warn rights groups’, The Guardian, 4 May  [Online]. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/may/04/child-marriage-thriving-in-uk-due-to-legal-loophole-warn-rights-groups (accessed 19 February 2022). 

Photo by EKATERINA  BOLOVTSOVA: https://www.pexels.com/photo/lady-justice-and-a-gavel-6077123/ 

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