The shutdown of parliament cannot be used to sweep aside long-awaited plans to update domestic abuse law, Boris Johnson has been warned.
Victims’ Commissioner Dame Vera Baird has written to the PM demanding the “landmark” domestic abuse bill pioneered by Theresa May is not scrapped when he sets out a new domestic agenda in October.
She has also urged the government to use the opportunity to clampdown on the “extremely damaging and growing incidence” of image-based abuse – also known as ‘revenge porn’ – where perpetrators use the possibility of publicly releasing intimate photos and videos to threaten their partner.
Baird told HuffPost UK: “This bill give us an opportunity to tackle the extremely damaging and growing incidence of image-based abuse as a weapon in domestic violence.
“Women are further controlled from attempting to leave coercive relationships by the threat that a photograph either stolen while she’s unaware or taken in an intimate moment will be sent to her children, her parents and everyone who knows her if she makes a move.
“This is an increasing feature of domestic abuse and it is not unlawful to make such an appalling threat. Now is our chance to legislate and make it a crime.”
The bill has wide cross-party support among MPs and strong backing from victims and charities, says Baird in her letter.
It is the “result of years of work with MPs, charities, survivors, and those working with abuse victims in frontline services”, she writes.
But fears are mounting that the domestic abuse bill may not survive intact or, as a general election seems imminent, that the concerns of victims could fall by the wayside.
The bill would stop abusers from being able to cross-examine their victims in court and give police new protection order powers.
It also includes a new statutory definition of the crime to include more complex offences, such as coercion and economic abuse.
Amid panic over a potential no-deal Brexit, the PM made the shock decision to ‘prorogue’, or suspend, parliament on September 9 for five weeks in order, he says, to bring forward a new Queen’s Speech.
Johnson said in the Commons this week that legislation which had not completed its journey through parliament before the prorogation would receive “proper consideration and be rolled over”.
In her letter, Baird warns around 2 million people suffer domestic abuse in England and Wales every year.
She writes: “Domestic abuse is not a niche interest; it is endemic insidious criminality in our society and this bill and its potential impact is supported by many,” she says.
“It would be a tragedy for this work to be wasted, and for victims and children to wait even longer for the potential change offered by the bill. This is a once in a generation opportunity to legislate.”