Amendment 149

Part of Domestic Abuse Bill - Committee (5th Day) – in the House of Lords at 8:45 pm on 8th February 2021.

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Photo of Baroness Bertin Baroness Bertin Conservative 8:45 pm, 8th February 2021

My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, in this important debate; he speaks movingly and powerfully on this issue. I support Amendment 157, for which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt set out the argument very well, but I will speak primarily in support of Amendment 149, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, to which I have also put my name. I also wish to thank her for all of her work in this area, and for eloquently speaking to this amendment, setting out in forensic detail why it is needed.

David Challen, son of Sally Challen, wrote movingly today in the Times. He said that leaving an abuser can be the most defining moment of a victim’s life. The fear of what will happen when they separate from their abuser is often overcome by an instinct of survival and the hope that they will be protected. However, as the law stands on coercive and controlling behaviour, victims who leave are not protected.

It is obvious that coercive control does not end when a relationship does and that very often the exact opposite happens, and the abuse escalates. As many noble Lords have said, this is particularly true of economic abuse, which does not require physical proximity to perpetrate, but can have a crippling effect on victims as their abuser seeks to make their life as hard and as financially unstable as possible. We also need to remember how often children are caught up in the continuation of this kind of abuse, with child maintenance very often being turned off and on like a tap. It is therefore absolutely right that the definition of domestic abuse in this Bill will include economic abuse and also recognises that the abuse can continue when the couple split up. We now need to take this opportunity, as others have said, to amend the Serious Crime Act 2015 to bring coercive control in line with the far better drafting of this Bill.

Not accounting for post-separation abuse is a serious shortcoming of the offence. Given that separation, as we have heard from other noble Lords, is a time at which women are at heightened risk of homicide, this shortcoming is dangerous, too. The Government made the point that existing legislation on stalking and harassment already addresses post-separation abuse. Like others, I absolutely do not accept that. These crimes are not the same and to suggest otherwise shows a lack of understanding about all these offences. I also do not believe that the Government’s outstanding report on controlling and coercive behaviour should stand in the way of this vital opportunity before us.

If the law on coercive control stays as it is, what kind of signal do we send to victims? It is this: “Stay put and we can charge him, but if you leave, we can’t touch him.” This makes no sense at all and must change. Failing to recognise that these abusive behaviours can occur post separation creates a dangerous gap in our understanding of this crime and would leave too many victims without the proper justice they deserve.