By Liz Fisher Frank, Essex Law Clinic Supervisor
The Domestic Abuse Bill is slowly making progress through Parliament. First promised in 2017, the ‘landmark’ Bill has, like most things, been held up by Brexit and now the pandemic. Due to the sharp rise in claims of domestic abuse, the need to push it through now is arguably greater than ever.
So, what will it mean to victims?
The Bill creates for the first time a statutory definition of domestic abuse referring to physical, emotional, economic abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour. It also recognises that children who see or hear domestic abuse are treated as victims of abuse in their own right. New Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Orders extend current powers of the police and the courts. Very importantly, the Bill also removes the ability of a perpetrator to cross-examine their victim in court, an experience which has reportedly and understandably traumatised many victims. When made law, the court will have the power to appoint a state funded advocate to fulfil that cross-examination role. Victims will also be entitled to ‘special measures’ at hearings meaning separate entrances, waiting rooms, screens etc to be provided as needed. There will also be a duty on Local Authority’s to provide Refuge services to victims plus a Domestic Abuse Commissioner role is to be created.
So that’s all good. Or is it?
Well it’s not for migrant women who have ‘no recourse to public funds’ (s15 Immigration and Asylum Act 1999) and are subject to immigration control. In July 2020, MP’s voted against introducing an amendment which would have allowed migrant women domestic abuse victims (who have no recourse to public funds) to access, as an exception to the general rule, financial support to enable them to escape an abusive situation. Without any kind of financial help, many migrant victims of domestic abuse without somewhere to go and means to pay for it will be faced with either returning to an abuser or the streets.