Landmark domestic abuse reforms clear latest Commons hurdle

The phrase “it’s only a domestic” will be consigned to history, the Justice Secretary said, as the landmark Domestic Abuse Bill cleared its latest Commons hurdle.

Robert Buckland welcomed changes to the Bill which include recognition for children as victims of domestic abuse and an end to the so-called “rough sex defence”.

“We owe it to 2.4 million victims a year to ensure the justice and that local support services work better for them,” he told MPs, during the Bill’s third reading debate.

He admitted there is “still more work to be done” in areas like the family courts, adding: “We must and we will do everything we can to protect vulnerable people, to protect victims and their children and to offer them the safety and the support they so desperately need.”

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland (Aaron Chown/PA)
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland (Aaron Chown/PA)

Labour’s shadow Home Office minister Jess Phillips said the passage of the Bill through the Commons showed victims “we can hear them”.

The Bill – which now passes to the House of Lords – seeks to give better protection to those fleeing violence by placing a new legal duty on councils to provide secure homes for them and their children.

It would also introduce the first legal Government definition of domestic abuse, which would include economic abuse and controlling and manipulative non-physical behaviour.

Earlier, Home Office minister Victoria Atkins outlined moves to stop the use of the so-called “rough sex defence”, which she told MPs is mainly used by men.

This follows a long-running campaign to stop abusers who kill their partners from claiming their victims were a willing participant in a sex game gone wrong in a bid to reduce murder charges to manslaughter or get a less severe sentence.

Ms Atkins told the Commons: “We’ve been clear that there is no such defence to serious harm which results from rough sex.

“But there is a perception that such a defence exists and that it is being used by men, and it is mostly men in these types of cases, to avoid convictions for serious offences or to receive a reduction in any sentence where they are convicted.”

Labour’s bid to ensure recourse to public funds for migrants who are domestic abuse survivors, was defeated by 330 votes to 207 – majority 123.

Of the amendment, Ms Phillips said: “Humans, who when they have been raped, beaten, controlled and abused, before we ask them how we can help, first we ask what stamp is in their passport.

“This cannot be right and what is more is that the situation as it is today is not only hindering support to victims, it is helping to leave rapists, abusers and violent perpetrators on our streets.”

But Theresa May said Labour’s amendment could have had unintended consequences.

The Conservative former prime minister said: “It’s particularly important in these cases that no action is taken that inadvertently leads to further abuse or to an increase of abuse and to people finding themselves the subject of abuse in order to achieve something that has been enabled by the legislation.

“And that’s why I do take the view that the Government’s approach of having this pilot of looking at the cases and finding the best ways to target support for those cases is the right way forward.”

This isn't something I'd usually tweet about but having quite a tough time in the lead-up to the 3rd reading of the #DomesticAbuseBill today. Have written/re-written my speech for it a few times now and I've realised that actually, I just can't do it today…

— Rosie Duffield MP (@RosieDuffield1) July 6, 2020

Labour’s Tonia Antoniazzi (Gower) said her colleague Rosie Duffield (Canterbury) felt unable to take part in the report stage of the Bill.

Ms Duffield won praise from MPs across the House after she spoke about her personal experience of domestic abuse at an earlier stage of the Bill’s passage.

Ms Antoniazzi said: “Speaking out of one’s experience of domestic violence is a very, very brave thing to do.

“A fear of reprisal stops many from speaking out, which is why I would also like to pay tribute to (Ms Duffield) who found coming to the chamber too difficult to speak this evening.”

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