Home Secretary Priti Patel to change policing bill after pressure from domestic abuse campaigners

The new legislation will force police forces across the country to make domestic abuse and sexual assault a top priority, ITV News Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana reports

Priti Patel has agreed to change the Policing Bill to make it clear to councils, police forces and other local agencies that they must treat domestic abuse and sexual offences as seriously as knife crime and homicide, as revealed by ITV News.

The home secretary is laying down an amendment to the legislation naming the offences as part of a new local duty to tackle violent crime, amid fears that they are not being treated sufficiently seriously in many parts of the country.

The change comes after pressure from the Tory peer, Baroness Gabby Bertin, along with colleagues, and the domestic abuse commissioner for England and Wales, Nicole Jacobs.

They had asked why a new law requiring groups to tackle “serious violence” in their local areas failed to explicitly list these crimes. Patel will now propose altering the wording so that they are added to the face of the bill – something that will easily pass a vote of Parliament.

The change comes after Baroness Bertin and Jacobs highlighted shocking evidence around how domestic abuse and sexual violence were being dealt with in some areas.

They pointed to data showing that only around half of police forces were delivering newly approved training on domestic abuse and only eight out of 18 violence reduction units in England included the offences in their strategies.

Moreover, the government’s 2018 Serious Violence Strategy does not recognise domestic abuse as a form of serious violence.

Campaigners have been urging the government to strengthen their response to domestic and sexual abuse. Credit: PA

Reacting to the news that the government was ready to shift its position to strengthen the response to these crimes, Baroness Bertin told ITV News it would be a “huge step forward”.

“It sends the signal loud and clear that tackling and preventing domestic abuse and violence against women and girls is no longer a choice,” she added.

“It also underpins the multi-agency, holistic approach that is needed to prevent these crimes happening in the first place. We are a long way from where we need to be, but this is an important change”.

Ministers had argued that local areas needed flexibility in how they implemented the new duty to tackle violent crime. They said they had listed very few crimes to allow local forces to respond to those regional variations.

But Jacobs pointed out there are “no significant regional variations” when it comes to domestic abuse and serious violence, with calls to a national helpline showing the crimes are ubiquitous across the country.

Moreover, the legislation did explicitly name two other crimes, because of fears that local authorities or the police might not otherwise include them. They were “violence against property” and “threats of violence”.

After considering their arguments Patel has decided to make the change and is expected to do so later on Wednesday morning.

In a statement to ITV News Ms Patel, said: “Any instance of violence towards another human being is sickening and it is incumbent upon all in authority to try and prevent it from occurring.”

She continued that the “numerous public sector bodies and agencies with a responsibility to protect young and vulnerable people from harm” must  “get better at working together to deliver for them”. 

“That is exactly why the Serious Violence Duty is so important,” she added.

Praising the tireless work Baroness Bertin she said she was now bringing forward changes to the bill “to make sure that domestic abuse and sexual offences – which do untold and often long-term damage to victims – can be included in local strategies for tackling serious violence”.