Bishop Rachel has spoken in the House of Lords on the Domestic Abuse Bill, celebrating the good work to date, yet also pushing for some important amendments.
My Lords, I too am glad to be contributing to this vital debate today – and I draw attention to my interests as President of The Nelson Trust and as Anglican Bishop for HM Prisons.
There are three things I would like to note:
Firstly, this is a landmark piece of legislation and reflects good progress, and we must ensure this Bill is as good as it can be for the sake of those at risk of abuse, and the victims and survivors of abuse.
Secondly, work on the task of ending domestic abuse does not end with this legislation.
And thirdly there are unresolved issues with the Bill regarding certain vulnerable groups, and I hope we will consider these further in this House. I will highlight just a few in the short time I have:
Firstly, We know that many women in the criminal justice system are both offenders and victims, and that in many cases offending is linked to domestic abuse and coercive control. Almost 60% of women supervised in the community or in custody who have an assessment have experienced Domestic Abuse, and many believe the true figure to be higher. English criminal law in its current form does not sufficiently recognise the need to protect survivors of domestic abuse who are driven to offend, whether that is in self-defence or relatively minor offences resulting in women being caught in the revolving door of imprisonment. I therefore support the call for a new statutory defence and an amendment to the law on self-defence to be added to this Bill for those whose offending is driven by their experience of domestic abuse.
And then there is the issue that not everyone who needs to escape an abusive relationship can currently access support. This is particularly true for women with insecure immigration status, because of course that insecurity is exploited by an abuser. Migrant women who face abuse and violence in the UK continue to have no access to the welfare safety net, including refuge spaces and support services. This could be addressed by extending the eligibility for the existing Domestic Violence Rule and the Destitution Domestic Violence Concession to all migrant women experiencing abuse, and by extending the time period for the DDVC from three to six months.
And now I come to the need for the Bill to ensure access to community-based services, and for a range of people: The obligation on local authorities to house women in refuges is part of the solution but not the whole. A range of support services for survivors from a range of backgrounds is required, including painstaking preventative work, and work with children who are themselves victims through what they witness and experience in their home. Focussing on one part of the picture but not the whole will ultimately prevent the bill from being successful.
My penultimate point is that I want to note the work being done across-Government on a ‘Violence Against Women and Girls’ strategy yet ask that the guidance issued under this Bill takes this important work into account to ensure consistency of approach.
Finally I want to briefly mention faith: We know that domestic abuse is an issue across all society, including faith communities. Getting the right legislation is an essential step, but changing culture will also be required. This Bill and the accompanying statutory guidance must reflect this. I know that there are people of faith who wish to play their part in being part of the solution, and indeed are already doing so.
I look forward to progressing this Bill together in this House.
Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, Lord Bishop of Gloucester