One key advantage of the DAPO over other existing orders is that it can be obtained via a range of different application routes. Unlike the current domestic violence protection order, which can only be applied for by police to a magistrates court, or the non-molestation order, which can only be applied for by victims to the family courts, the DAPO provisions allow far greater flexibility in who can apply for an order, and to which court the application may be made.
Clause 25 sets out who can apply for a DAPO: namely, the victim, the police, a relevant third party specified in regulations, or any other person with the leave of the court. The provision for relevant third parties, which is to be set out in the regulations, ensures that such parties would be able to apply for an order directly without first obtaining the leave of the court. We will use the pilot of the orders to assess whether the current provisions for anyone to apply with the leave of the court are sufficient, or whether it would be beneficial to enable local authorities, for example, to make an application without first having to seek leave of the court. If there is a case for expanding the list of persons who can apply for a DAPO as of right, we can provide for that in regulations at a later stage.
Subsections (3) and (4) set out which police force, including the British Transport police and the Ministry of Defence police, should lead on an application for an order in different circumstances. Where a notice has already been given, the application must be made by the police force that gave the notice. Where the police wish to apply for a stand-alone order without a notice having been given, the application should be made by the force for the police area in which the perpetrator resides currently or intends to come into. The purpose of the provision is to make it absolutely clear which police force has responsibility for applying for a DAPO in order to avoid any confusion, duplication of effort or delay in putting protective measures around the victim.
The clause also sets out to which courts applications can be made. Police applications are to be made to a magistrates court, as is the case for domestic violence protection orders, and other applications are to be made to the family court. To ensure that DAPOs are widely accessible in other circumstances where they may be needed, the clause also allows for applications to be made by a victim during the course of certain proceedings in the family and civil courts, as specified at clause 28.
The clause is very robust and replaces an incredibly confusing picture of which orders one can get where. As somebody who has filled in the paperwork for pretty much all of these orders, I do not think I could explain it right now. It is very complicated, but we have a clear listing of exactly who can do what. What the Minister has said about regulations being laid around relative third parties is an important point. I know that the Joint Committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill and also anyone who works in this building will have potential concerns about the misuse of third parties applying for DAPOs. I cannot imagine many circumstances in which they could be misused, but unfortunately perpetrators are particularly manipulative and can sometimes find ways to do that, so I will be interested to see the regulations on third parties when they are laid and how much that will be in consultation with the victim and, in fact, the perpetrator. We are infringing on people’s rights. Although I want to see those rights inhibited in lots of cases, they are none the less rights that we are here to fight for.
The Minister has outlined the police force area in which the DAPO is filed. This is always a complicated thing, but does she foresee any problems with resource in the police force area? I raise this because of personal experience in having orders in my own cases. I am not very popular in Manchester for some reason. I feel desperately sorry for Greater Manchester police. When coming to take statements from me to look at options around protections for me personally, it takes a whole day out of a police officer’s time to come all the way to Birmingham and sit in my house, sometimes for nine hours.
Is there a plan that could be put in guidance around police force partnerships where there is a big geographical spread? In these cases, most likely people will be close by, but when women go into refuge they can move across the country, often from Birmingham to Wales, for some reason—I do not know why, but it is close and we like the water. I have concerns about victims feeling, “Oh, that’s really far away,” or, “Gosh, I’m bothering the police.” I have certainly felt myself that I am bothering Greater Manchester police and that I might just give up on this because it is such an effort for them to drive there.
Those are not reasonable things, and we cannot mitigate people’s feelings in the law. As the Minister said, we do not try to put people’s feelings into the law, because we would never be able to represent them properly, but I think this has to be considered. The clause is well written and substantive in its detail.
On the potential for conflict between the different areas for the victim and perpetrator police forces, we absolutely understand that. We very much expect those sorts of issues to be drawn out through the pilot. Interestingly, any police force can issue a notice to the perpetrator in response to a crisis incident, whether or not it is the police force where the perpetrator resides. That prevents any delay in protecting the victim and means that the forces do not have to reach a decision in each case on who should issue the notice. Clause 25(3) provides that whichever police force issues the notice to the perpetrator must then apply for the order against them.
We are very alert to the issue of distances. That is why in subsection (8)(b) we have ensured that a victim cannot be compelled to attend the hearing or answer questions unless they have given oral or written evidence at the hearing. That means that the police and other third-party applicants can make evidence-led applications that do not rely on the victim’s testimony. Of course, where the application is supported by evidence provided by the victim, the court should have the opportunity to hear from the victim in person. We will ensure that there are guidance materials for victims to make it clear what they can expect from the DAPO process and to address any concerns they may have about the DAPO application hearing.