Domestic abusers will no longer be able to cross-examine their victims in family courts as part of a package of government changes to crackdown on “hideous” domestic abuse crimes.
Under the long-awaited draft domestic abuse bill, published on Monday, the statutory definition of domestic abuse will be widened to include economic abuse and controlling and manipulative behaviour.
The legislation will also establish a domestic abuse commissioner charged with tackling the issue, as well as new protection orders for victims.
The changes come after a Home Office report revealed that domestic abuse cost England and Wales £66 million in 2016/17.
Announcing the move, justice secretary David Gauke said domestic abuse “destroys lives”, “warranting some of the strongest measures out our proposal to deter offenders and protect victims”.
“That is why we are barring abusers from cross-examining their victims in the family courts - a practice which can cause immense distress and amount to a continuation of abuse - and giving courts greater powers, including new protection orders, to tackle this hideous crime,” he said.
The changes have been welcomed by domestic abuse charities. Katie Ghose, chief executive of Women’s Aid, said the bill must act as a reminder that an average of two women a week are killed in England and Wales each week as a result of domestic abuse.
“We look forward to working with the government, our member services and survivors themselves to make sure survivors have the resources and support they need, as well as address the root causes of domestic abuse so that every woman and child can live free from fear and abuse,” she said.
But shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said survivors of domestic abuse had been made to wait too long for the bill, which was delayed by 18 months.
“If the Tories are serious about combating domestic violence, then there should be long term funding commitments to ensure sufficient resources are available for abuse survivors,” she said.