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Reforms - assaults - domestic violence

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Sentencing Guidelines Council under attack

 

Draft guidelines here

 

In April 2006 the Sentencing Guidelines Council said that men who used violence against their partners should be sentenced to rehabilitation classes or community orders in some circumstances, they said,

"Rather than the imposition of a short custodial sentence, an appropriate disposal in such situations might be a suspended sentence order or a community order, in either case with a requirement to attend a domestic violence programme."

The Metropolitan Police Authority responded immediately saying:

"The proposals by the Sentencing Guidelines Council that those responsible for domestic violence could potentially escape custodial sentences for their brutality is a retrograde step and the Metropolitan Police Authority's new Domestic Violence Board questions the logic and justice behind the suggestion.

 

"We just have to look at the facts to see that domestic violence is a vicious and a repetitive crime. On average a woman is assaulted more than 30 times before seeking help and even more worrying is the fact that domestic homicide accounts for over 25% of murders in London.

 

"Rehabilitation classes or community orders should not be viewed as an alternative to custodial sentences - complementary perhaps, but the fact is that the individual responsible for the violence is committing a criminal act, leaving victims traumatised and vulnerable in their own homes, and we need to send out a strong message that it is simply unacceptable."

Domestic violence

The extent of the problem of women battered by their partners was shown by the research of Mooney for Tolerance against Domestic violence.

  • Only one in three men said they would never use violence against their partners,

  • 23% said they could envisage situations where they would.

  • One in five said they would react violently every time to situations such as nagging, or housework not been done well enough.

  • Nearly 25% of women said their partners had raped them.

  • 10% had suffered an attempted strangulation.

  • 7% had occasioned broken bones.

 

The desire for change continues

March 2004, the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer delivered a speech at the Barbican Centre outlining proposals for reform.

"There are an estimated 600,000 incidents of domestic violence each year. But at the same time, it’s estimated that there are only 7,000 criminal prosecutions."

"Other estimates suggest that 95 per cent of victims suffer for more than 6 months before seeking help and around half suffer for more than 5 years."

"Women on average are attacked 35 times before they seek help against the perpetrators of domestic violence. And two women are killed every week in domestic violence incidents."

"And yet only 19,000 victims of domestic violence are seeking non-molestation orders or occupation orders through the civil courts."


He proposes changes to the law some of which are:

  • improving the law on non-molestation orders

  • sentencing changes including manslaughter by reason of provocation, particularly in domestic settings

Full speech here

'The Age of Anxiety'

On 21 October 1997, Harriet Harman, Social Security Secretary and Minister for Women spoke at the launch of the National Children's Home (NCH) Action for Children's report: 'The Age of Anxiety'.

82% of children are concerned about violence at home and that crimes against women are more likely to be committed in their homes by someone they know.

"Tackling violence against women is one of my key priorities as Minister for Women.”

  • 43% of all assaults against women  are within the home by someone they know;

  • 41% of all women homicide victims were killed by their present or former partner;

  • Women suffer twice over - once for themselves and again for their children - 82% of children fear violence in the home."

  • Only 10% of men are killed by their partners.

British Crime Survey (BCS) 2005/6

Usually a more reliable figure shows unreported domestic violence.

 

The latest BCS results suggests that the number of violent crimes remains stable - July 2006.

 

As well as violence within heterosexual couples, there is an increasing awareness of violence in other kinds of relationship (for example, same sex couples, or abuse of elderly parents by their adult children).

 

Survey here

Victims of domestic assaults rarely receive the law's protection

Not reported

Few domestic assaults (around 2%) are reported to the police. If they are not reported, obviously they cannot be prosecuted, and the violent partner escapes punishment.

 

Because….

  1. Embarrassment

  2. Own fault

  3. Hoped to be single episode

  4. BWS

  5. Fear that reporting the offence will simply lead to further beatings

 

  1. Embarrassment; what the violence says about their relationship

  2. Blame themselves; violent partners claim they have been provoked into violence by the woman's behaviour.

  3. Tells herself that it will not happen again; she may feel powerless and unable to escape or take any steps towards report in the offence.

  4. This situation can lead to a psychological state, called a battered woman syndrome (now taken into account in the defence of provocation and diminished responsibility).

  5. If the police charge the partner, the partner will usually be granted bail, and is highly likely to arrive home and attack again in revenge for making the complaint.

 

No evidence of improvement

Metropolitan Police figures show that domestic violence has levelled at 44,342 in 2002.

 

This could mean that there was no decrease in domestic violence, but it could equally suggest a change in reporting to the police.

 

The traditional police approach to domestic violence

  • Avoid involvement; leave the partners to sort things out themselves.

  • Respect privacy of the home and the family which has been a traditional part of British culture “an Englishman's home is his castle”.

  • Intervention of the legal system might need to increased marriage breakdown.

  • A couple might divorce if a prosecution, but left alone, they would patch up their differences.

  • Where prosecutions are bought, by the time the case comes to court wives and girlfriends refuse to give evidence, leading to cases collapsing.

 

Attempts to improve the lot of women

A spouse can now be compelled to give evidence against their partner in court proceedings, Section 80 Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

 

Extensive improvements in civil orders of restraint (with powers of police arrest attached) orders can be made prohibiting contact and even ousting the violent person from the home.  The effect of such an order in practice is minimal if the violent partner is determined to get to the victim.

 

Home Office guidelines, the police to treat domestic violence in the same way as stranger violence

In 1990, the Home Office published guidelines to encourage the police to take domestic violence seriously.

 

These stress the importance of keeping careful records of incidence of domestic violence and registers of people at risk similar to those kept for children at risk.

 

They also encourage prosecution rather than attempts at reconciliation in appropriate cases.

 

Stalking

Describes a campaign of harassment. Such conduct raises two important questions:

  • What are the boundaries of acceptable sexual behaviour and

  • How far should psychiatric damage be recognised by the law?

Protection from Harassment Act 1997

Allows for civil action and creates several new criminal offences.

 

Section 1 prohibits a person from pursuing a course of conduct that they know or ought to know amounts to harassment of another punishable by six months' imprisonment.

 

Section 4 creates aggravated harassment where, in addition, the defendant knows or ought to know that they placed the victim in fear of violence on at least two occasions. Carries five years' imprisonment.

 

Was it necessary?

Was it a knee-jerk reaction?  Some have suggested that it was.  The same argument applies to other legislation such as changes to the law on joyriding and dangerous dogs.  They all address a narrow social harm backed by a single issue pressure group campaign, with widely drawn provisions which overlap existing offences.

 

The new offences in the 1997 Act are broadly defined and they have impinged upon other activities hitherto regarded as legitimate, such as investigative journalism. When it introduced the Act the Government estimated that there would only be 200 extra prosecutions per year.  But the latest Home Office figures show more than 6,000 cases a year.

 

The Act has also been used in cases having nothing whatsoever to do with stalking and involving former partners, demonstrators and newspapers.

 

The Sun was successfully sued under the Protection from Harassment Act over articles it published (Thomas v News Group Newspapers, Times Law Report July 25, 2001) and, regardless of the rights or wrongs of that particular case, it is certainly a far cry from the original motivation and justification behind the Protection from Harassment Act.

 

The Common Law could accommodate social change

Cases such as R v Ireland and Burstow and R v Constanza show that the courts were prepared to adapt existing criminal law offences to include this type of harmful conduct. On the other hand, some people feel that these cases artificially distorted the existing law ignoring accepted authorities and that a fresh legislative approach was required with this specific problem in mind.

 

In practice the value of the 1997 Act may be that it includes a power to make restraining orders forbidding the defendant from pursuing any conduct which amounts to harassment and a power of arrest to enforce these orders.

 

Speech by Dame Butler-Sloss

here

Domestic violence data source

here

 

 

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