Conditions for making an order

Domestic Abuse Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 10th June 2020.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

Thank you, Mr Bone—that’s my career over.

Clause 29 sets out two conditions that must be met before the court may make a domestic abuse protection order. The first is that the court must be satisfied—on the balance of probability, as I have indicated—that the person has been abusive towards the victim. Our intention with the DAPO is to bring together the strongest elements of the existing protective order regime.

One of the key benefits of existing civil protection orders is that if a victim who needs protection from abuse is not able to gather sufficient evidence to meet a criminal standard of proof, they can still apply to the courts for protection. We have ensured that that will be the case for the DAPO as well by explicitly providing for a civil standard of proof: on the balance of probabilities. The Joint Committee in examining the draft Bill were content with the application of the civil standard.

In the Bill, we have made it clear that domestic abuse includes many different types of abusive behaviour, as we have heard, including physical and sexual, as well as controlling, economic and emotional abuse. That is a novel and important departure. That means the court will be able to take into account all the abuse present in the case when deciding whether to make an order.

That is a step forward compared to current domestic violence protection orders, which require either violence or the threat of violence before a notice can be issued or an order made; we understand that this is currently interpreted to mean physical violence only. Members of the Committee will immediately see the extent to which the ambit has been broadened.

The second condition is that the court must be satisfied that it is necessary and proportionate to make the order to protect the victims of domestic abuse or those at risk of domestic abuse. Once the threshold is met, the court may impose only those requirements that it considers are necessary to protect the victim. Incidentally, that necessary threshold is important in ensuring that the measure is compliant with our responsibilities under the European convention on human rights.

The clause also specifies that an order can be made only against a person who is 18 or over. We recognise that younger people can be involved in abusive relationships, which is why we have included 16 and 17-year-olds in the new statutory definition of domestic abuse. There is, however, a balance to strike. We do not want to rush to criminalise young people, in line with our youth justice guidelines, as DAPOs carry a criminal penalty for breach, punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment or a fine, or both.

Pausing on that, it is important to recognise that DAPOs will be imposed on somebody who is not guilty of any crime, yet breach of them is punishable by imprisonment: these are robust powers, and that is why we have circumscribed them carefully in the way that we have. I do not need to beg to move, so I shall just sit down.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 29 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.