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MPs Call For Six-Month Limit On Domestic Abuse Assault Prosecutions To Be Scrapped

The amendment has the support of domestic abuse charities Refuge, Women’s Aid and Centre for Women’s Justice (Alamy)

3 min read

A cross-party group of MPs has proposed an amendment to the government’s policing bill which would give domestic abuse victims more time to bring assault charges against their abusers. 

Under current law, there is a six-month time limit for prosecuting cases of assault, but domestic abuse charities have warned that this prevents many victims from obtaining justice.

MPs calling for the change argue that women may delay reporting an incident to the police beyond the current time limit because they are still in an ongoing abusive relationship, feel traumatised by their experiences, or are dealing with the logistics of fleeing their situation.

There are reports of victims being told cases of common assault against them cannot be prosecuted as the investigation by the police took too long. 

One woman, who wished to remian anonymous, said her abusive partner was arrested at her home three times for common assualt but police told her case could not be reopened when she eventually sought to press charges, more than six months later. "At the time I did not press charges so they don’t seem to care," she said. 

The new amendment, tabled by home affairs select committee chair Yvette Cooper, would give police two years from the date of the incident to charge the assailant in domestic abuse cases.

It will go before MPs on Monday when the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill returns to the Commons. 

“Too many domestic abuse victims are being denied justice because of a six-month limit on prosecuting common assault,” Cooper said. 

“But unlike with other crimes, in domestic abuse cases there are obvious and serious reasons why victims may take more time to report the abuse to the police.”

She continued: “This is just another example of where the criminal justice system is badly failing women. 

“The Government needs to act on this – I am urging them to support our amendment next week.”

The amendment has the backing of seven other MPs from across the Commons including: Tim Loughton; Harriet Harman; Diane Abbott; Diana Johnson; Simon Fell; Andrew Gwynne; and Alex Cunningham.

The amendment also has the support of domestic abuse charities Refuge, Women’s Aid and Centre for Women’s Justice, plus the endorsement of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner.

Lisa King, director of communications at Refuge, said she was “hopeful that this amendment will provide real protection to the women currently being timed out of access to justice”.

“The criminal justice system, which so often works against women, must be fit for purpose, and this simple change to the law would ensure better protection for so many women, and bring the law more in line with the needs of women experiencing domestic abuse,” she continued.

Farah Nazeer, chief executive of Women’s Aid, said: “Survivors face huge personal and societal barriers in reporting domestic abuse. 

“The six-month limit fails to recognise that women simply may not be able to report until after they’ve escaped the abuser and found safety, and cases can often be complex and lengthy to investigate.”

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