Courts in England and Wales have been advised to give tougher sentences to perpetrators of domestic abuse. Lucy Theobald, Partner in Coodes Solicitors’ Family Team welcomes the news and says it will act as a deterrent, protecting victims of domestic violence.
The Sentencing Council for England and Wales has issued new guidance to the courts on handling domestic abuse cases. There are a number of important changes in the guidance, but in a nutshell it means that those who carry out abuse in the home will now face much tougher sentences.
Sadly domestic abuse is a huge, widespread problem. For too long, a number of horrendous abuse cases have been dismissed as being ‘just a domestic’. So I welcome these changes, which I believe will act as a deterrent.
One very important change is that physical violence or psychological abuse in an intimate relationship will now be treated more seriously than equivalent crimes committed in other situations. I think this is right because it reflects the fact that domestic abuse is a violation of trust.
Another key aspect of the guidance is that abusers will be treated according to the severity of their crime, not the wishes of the victim. Until now, if the victim of abuse did not want his or her partner to be sentenced, the authorities have taken that on board. This meant that many abusers got away without paying for their crimes. I often hear my clients say that they do not want their abuser to go to prison, lose his or her job or stop having contact with the children. Sadly, there is then a risk that they will go on to abuse again – and, of course, other people may then suffer. The guidance clearly states that the appropriate penalty will now be given, regardless of the victim’s wishes.
I am also very encouraged by the fact that the sentencing guidelines recognise the seriousness of the growing problem of abuse carried out on social media. I have written about this topic previously, calling for more recognition of social media and online harassment as a channel for domestic abuse.
This is the latest change in domestic abuse law. Two years ago, the Offence of Coercive Control was implemented, finally recognising psychological abuse as a form of domestic violence. While I wish these changes could have happened sooner, it is gratifying to see the law finally catching up with reality.
For too long there has not been a strong deterrent against committing these crimes. I welcome these changes, which reflect the seriousness of domestic abuse.