According to the Home Office:
- One in four women and one in six men will be a victim of domestic violence in their lifetime with women at greater risk of repeat victimisation and serious injury.
- 89% of those suffering four or more incidents are women
- One incident of domestic violence is reported to the police every minute
- On average two women a week are killed by a current or former male partner
Domestic violence accounts for 16% of all violent crime
Sections 1 and 12 of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 came into force on 1 July 2007. Thus the breach of a court order forbidding the use or threat of violence or from entering a property or specific area, is now a criminal offence punishable by up to five year’s imprisonment.
The sending out of a clear message that domestic abuse will never be tolerated in any situation is welcomed.
The civil courts, of course, already had powers to attach powers of arrest to orders and to commit to prison for a breach (essentially for civil contempt). Resolution is concerned that criminalising the breach of non-molestation orders could have unfortunate consequences:
- It could deter sufferers from making an application for an order. The main concern of a Domestic Abuse sufferer who applies for a non-molestation order is to stop the abuse and some will not want to set in motion proceedings that could result in the perpetrator having a criminal record.
- Perpetrators often say the allegations of abuse are false. They may not want to run the risk of allegations of breach resulting in criminal proceedings and may, therefore, choose to contest the injunction application.
- The criminal justice system may struggle to deal with breach of an order as swiftly as the civil courts have; often within 24 hours. Also if the breach is denied will the case be dealt with on that occasion or adjourned for only a matter of days or weeks for a hearing, as in the civil court?
- Whilst the criminal court will have power to make a restraining order when convicting or acquitting a perpetrator of any offence, the domestic abuse sufferer will not have legal representation and will be unlikely to be in court if the perpetrator pleads guilty. Will the court, therefore, have enough information about the sufferer's personal circumstances to frame the order in the most appropriate terms?