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05 May 2020

Blog: Changing the law to protect domestic abuse survivors who offend

Katy Swaine Williams, Senior Programme Manager for the Prison Reform Trust’s Transforming Lives programme, discusses the charity’s proposed amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill in the April edition of napo magazine.

The Prison Reform Trust’s Transforming Lives programme has been funded by the National Lottery Community Fund since 2015 to help reduce the unnecessary imprisonment of women in the UK. We do this through research and advocacy, working collaboratively alongside policy makers and practitioners both nationally and locally.

According to Ministry of Justice data, nearly 60% of women in prison and under community supervision are victims of domestic abuse. The true number is likely to be higher as women face many barriers to disclosure. A key strand of our work on the Transforming Lives programme has been to raise awareness of the links between women’s experience of domestic abuse and their offending.

Our 2018 report ‘There’s a reason we’re in trouble’ sets out how, for many survivors, their offending is directly driven by the abuse. Yet whereas Section 45 of the Modern Slavery Act provides a defence for victims of trafficking who are driven to offend in very similar circumstances, there is no equivalent for victims of domestic abuse. And while statutory provision is made in Section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 in respect of householders who defend themselves against an intruder, no such provision is made for those defending themselves against their abuser.

Over the last two years we have been working with legal and domestic abuse experts to call for improved legal protection to be added to the Domestic Abuse Bill for those who are driven to offend in these circumstances. This would address a gap in legal protection for survivors, strengthen recognition of the links between victimisation and offending and deter inappropriate prosecutions.

In its report published in June, the Joint Committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill recommended that this proposal be considered by the government.

The case for law reform has widespread support, including from Sally Challen’s defence lawyers, the Victims’ Commissioner, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, the Criminal Bar Association and Women’s Aid. We will be putting our proposals forward again as the Bill progresses through Parliament, following its reintroduction in March.

We would be pleased to hear from any probation professionals with views on our proposals, and with practice examples illustrating why better defences are needed.

Katy Swaine Williams