A powerful tool to help protect victims of harassment including domestic abuse will come into effect next month, the Government confirmed today.
From 30 September courts will have greater freedom to grant restraining orders when abusers appear before them, giving victims immediate protection and sparing them the ordeal of a separate civil action.
Currently courts can only issue restraining orders following conviction for two types of offences: harassment or putting someone in fear of violence.
Under the new rules an order can be made following conviction for any offence and even where someone is acquitted in order to better protect victims. Breaking the terms of a restraining order is a criminal offence punishable by up to five years in prison.
Today’s announcement coincides with the publication of the National Domestic Violence Delivery Plan 2008/9.
Home Office Minister Lord West said:
“Domestic violence is a devastating crime which impacts across all communities.
“We continue to make good progress in tackling this hateful crime and conviction rates are improving – 72 per cent of cases charged and brought to court at the end of 2008/09 resulted in a conviction compared with 60 per cent four years ago.
“The additional powers announced today will also help victims in need of immediate protection and spare them the need to take separate civil action.
“But there is still more to be done and I look forward to the launch of the cross-government Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy in November and further measures to help victims and prevent violence.”
Harriet Harman, Minister for Women and Equality, said:
“Domestic violence is totally unacceptable. Since 1997 we have strengthened the law, increased sentences, and improved the way police, courts and the criminal justice system support victims of domestic violence, which has led to a 64 per cent drop in incidents of domestic violence.
"But we are committed to doing more. These new restraining orders will mean that a woman does not have to go from pillar to post, immediately giving her protection from harassment.”
Nicola Harwin, Chief Executive of Women's Aid, said:
"Women's Aid welcomes the report and looks forward to the launch of the Violence against Women and Girls strategy in November. We must improve protection for those affected by abuse and welcome the many initiatives over the last 10 years to improve protection. These restraining orders will provide a valuable new tool to help protect victims
"Women's Aid also welcomes proposals for improved prevention work with young people in schools. Evidence shows that although many young people will not tolerate domestic violence, up to a million girls and boys in the UK are at risk every year."
The report shows that the Government has made significant headway in ensuring perpetrators of violence against women are effectively dealt with and victims supported.
Key achievements in 2008/9 include:
- allocating funding of £500,000 towards the National Domestic Violence Helpline run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge, which received over 137,000 calls last year;
- the Crown Prosecution Service reaching 72 per cent for successful prosecutions with the number of unsuccessful outcomes in domestic violence cases falling significantly;
- funding of £225,000 provided to train 75 Independent Domestic Violence Advisers;
- an increase in the number of multi-agency risk assessment conferences (MARACs) which meet to protect high risk victims of domestic violence to more than 200. Last year more than 24,000 cases had been brought to MARAC involving 34,000 children;
- implementation of the Forced Marriage Act. The Forced Marriage Unit saw a 27 per cent increase in the number of cases as more people sought help than ever before; and