Domestic abuse and sexual violence should be considered 'serious violent crime', commissioner says

Domestic violence stock pic PA
Credit: PA

The domestic abuse commissioner for England and Wales has written to the home secretary, Priti Patel, to call for urgent changes to the government’s flagship policing bill to help protect victims of domestic abuse.

The legislation places a duty on local authorities, police and other agencies to tackle “serious violence” in their areas. But when defining what that means it does not explicitly name domestic homicide, domestic abuse or sexual violence.

Nicole Jacobs said the crimes should be added to the face of the bill to help protect victims.

She said she was backing a new amendment to the bill, laid down by the Conservative peer, Baroness Bertin and other peers – which calls for the wording to be changed.

“I am concerned … that by not including domestic abuse, domestic homicides and sexual offences on the face of the legislation, many local areas will simply not consider them within their strategies,” she wrote.

The letter and amendment come after a police watchdog said that preventing violence against women and girls should be considered as much of a priority as counter-terrorism, county lines and organised crime – warning that women faced a postcode lottery in the way cases were dealt with.

Ms Jacobs said she wanted to discuss the issue with Ms Patel as a “matter of urgency”.

Her fears about the way in which domestic abuse is treated have been worsened by data that suggests:

  • Around half of police forces are not delivering training on domestic abuse and

  • only eight out of 18 Violence Reduction Units include these crimes as part of their strategies - with one telling Jacobs they were advised against including it by Home Office guidance

Ministers have argued that the duty included in the policing bill around serious violence does not list many crimes, because local areas should have the flexibility to define what the key issues are in their local area.

But Ms Jacobs pointed out there are “no significant regional variations” when it comes to domestic abuse and serious violence - saying calls to a national helpline are roughly equal from the nine regions of England.

The domestic abuse commissioner for England and Wales has written to Priti Patel to call for changes to the policing bill Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

Moreover, many local authorities use the 2018 Serious Violence Strategy to help them define which crimes to consider, and that does not recognise domestic abuse as a form of serious violence.

“All too often these crime types are sidelined,” Ms Jacob said.

Moreover, the policing bill does explicitly list two crimes – because of fears that local authorities and police may not otherwise include them. They are “violence against property” and “threats of violence”.

The legislation is currently in the Lords, with Baroness Bertin and co. hoping that their amendment may help encourage ministers to change their mind.

Baroness Bertin said: “I hope the government takes up this amendment. Not doing so would be a wasted opportunity and potentially undermine any progress made.

"Ending the postcode lottery we still have when it comes to how local areas deal with domestic abuse and sexual violence is vital - especially when we know how prevalent it is all around the country.

"There is a place for localism but not on an issue like this, particularly given how much work is still needed to do.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Protecting women and girls from violence and abuse is a top priority for the government.

“The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will ensure that the police, local authorities, health bodies and others work together to prevent and reduce serious violence.

“We have made clear in the draft guidance published alongside of the bill that serious violence in this context can include domestic abuse. We will listen carefully to the debate on Baroness Bertin’s amendment when it is considered in committee next month.”