Domestic Abuse Commissioner responds to Criminal Justice reforms in the King’s Speech

I welcome the emphasis on the criminal justice system in the King’s Speech today. It is absolutely right that this government has named violence against women and girls as a priority.  

However, the criminal justice system across the board is failing victims of domestic abuse. The government’s reforms must be ambitious enough to address this. It is imperative that the government utilises the criminal justice bills announced today to demonstrate its commitment to tackling domestic abuse and violence against women and girls.  

I welcome the return of the Victims and Prisoners Bill to Parliament, and I urge the government to ensure that this is amended to ensure sufficient funding at a local level for domestic abuse services that offer support like counselling and advocacy.  

These services are vital in supporting victims with their mental wellbeing following the trauma of domestic abuse, as well as providing safety planning and 121 support through the criminal justice system. With my proposed amendment, we would see long overdue investment at a local level. 

Crucially, victims and survivors’ trust in the criminal justice system is at an all time low. We have seen repeated reports of horrendous crimes perpetrated by members of the police force and a failure by forces to eradicate these officers from their ranks. 

Government must include a focus on tackling police perpetrated domestic abuse in its criminal justice reforms announced today. This should include legislative change to ensure perpetrators of domestic abuse can be removed from the police force and police staff as well as changes to police regulations to remove warrant cards from police officers under investigation for violence against women and girls offenses.  

Renewed emphasis on tougher sentencing for perpetrators of domestic homicide and a new crime for intimate image abuse are steps in the right direction.  For too long sentencing has not reflected the fatal harm posed by perpetrators of domestic abuse.  

I welcome the government’s announcement that murdering your partner at the end of a relationship will be an aggravating factor, meaning that a longer sentence could be applied.  This, along with Coercive and Controlling Behaviour were recommended by the Wade Review as aggravating factors with regards to sentencing, which the government accepted. I hope to work closely with government on the details on this proposal and am calling on government to adopt the full suite of recommendations which came out of the Review. 

Intimate image abuse is a horrendous crime which violates the sexual autonomy, bodily privacy and dignity of victims. Refuge found that despite a steady year-on-year rise in reports, only 4% of reported cases of sharing or threatening to share intimate images resulted in charges being pressed.

I hope this new legislation brings consistency to ensure agencies across the justice system – from the police to prosecution – are holding perpetrators to account and protecting victims from image-based abuse. 

However I remain concerned at recent Ministry of Justice commitments to introduce a presumption against short sentences of 12 months and to allow the prison service to let some prisoners on short sentences out of jail up to 18 days early.  

For too long the criminal justice system has failed to recognise the severity of domestic abuse crimes and the danger perpetrators pose. Government must ensure domestic abuse victims do not lose out on the justice and protection they need. I want to see Ministry of Justice set out how victims of other domestic abuse crimes like harassment, stalking and assault will be protected. 

Sentencing is just one part of the transformations needed to truly tackle domestic abuse. With prosecution rates so low and a huge backlog in the courts, government must address the fundamental inadequacies within the criminal justice system.  

We need to see ambitious and wide reaching criminal justice reforms which extend beyond those announced today in order to truly deliver for domestic abuse victims.  

Read the government’s briefing note on the King’s Speech here.