Government amends Policing Bill to define domestic abuse and sexual violence as forms of serious violence

Today, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is back in Parliament, where members of the House of Lords will be putting forward their suggestions on what changes could be made to improve the legislation.

I, along with many others, have been calling for a change to the definition of serious violence for the proposed Serious Violence Prevention Duty contained within the new Bill. Our proposal was to explicitly include domestic abuse and sexual violence in the definition on the face of the legislation to make clear to local areas that they should be included within their prevention strategies. During its passage through the House of Lords, the cross- party campaign for this change has been led by Baroness Bertin and co-sponsored by Lord Polak, Lord Russell and Lord Rosser.

As this Bill returns to Parliament, I am delighted that the Government has taken action, and laid its own amendment to the Bill, to explicitly include domestic abuse and sexual violence in the serious violence definition.

I want to pay huge thanks to all those who campaigned for this change, including victims and survivors of domestic abuse, those working in the sector and Baroness Bertin and other politicians in both the House of Lords and House of Commons who came together to make the case for change so passionately and so clear.

By explicitly including domestic abuse and sexual violence in the duty the Government has shown its commitment to tackle the drivers of gendered violence. This change sends a strong message to police forces and local statutory agencies across the country of the importance of acting early to prevent domestic abuse, sexual violence as well as violence against women and girls.  

The proposed Serious Violence Prevention Duty will require a range of public bodies including the police, health authorities, schools and other criminal justice agencies to work together to prevent and tackle serious violence, with the aim of reducing the number of victims and perpetrators of crime. This represents a critical opportunity to implement an early intervention, public health focused approach to tackling serious violent crime, rather than relying solely on traditional criminal justice levers, which only come into play in the aftermath of an offence.

Given that domestic abuse flagged cases make up such a significant proportion of offences, it is essential that all forces consider it within the new duty. One third of all violent crime recorded by the police is domestic abuse-related,[1] and the most common type of violence to be experienced on a repeated basis.[2] Almost half of all female homicides (and 8% of male homicides) are domestic homicides.[3]

Moving forward, I will be working to help ensure that the guidance that accompanies this duty is clear about the need to involve specialist domestic abuse services in helping to formulate these strategies and implement them in a way which responds to the needs of all communities.

This is an extremely welcome step forward from the Government, which I hope will have a significant impact on the way we tackle domestic abuse; focused more heavily on a preventative, coordinated community response. It is only by working together in this way that we can make the biggest difference in preventing people experiencing these types of heinous crimes that destroy lives and leave a long lasting impact on victims and their children.

[1] Office for National Statistics (ONS), The nature of violent crime in England and Wales: Year ending March 2020, Section 7, Groups of people most likely to be victims of violent crime.

[2] Ibid, Section 6, Levels of Repeat Victimisation.

[3] ONS, Homicide in England and Wales: year ending 2019.