Jess Phillips MP: Yet again domestic abuse victims are the collateral damage of party politicking

Posted On: 
4th September 2019

For three years victims, campaigners and parliamentarians have worked to create a Domestic Abuse Bill that will save lives. But the legislative vehicle has once again failed some of the country’s most vulnerable people, writes Jess Phillips

Victims of domestic abuse are "collateral damage of party politicking", Jess Phillips writes
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For three years parliamentarians have worked with victims, both child and adult, and the organisations that advocate and support them to work cross party with the government to build the Domestic Abuse Bill.

These days there is very little that unites those in Westminster, and the Domestic Abuse Bill was a rare bird in that regard. The bill was at the beginning of its life and was, I had hoped, set to change many things for the lives of some of the country’s most vulnerable people.

It seems that rare bird may now become extinct. The Prime Minister, when he acted to prorogue (can we just say shut down please) didn’t just halt the progress of this bill, he terminated it. To date the Home Office have made no public statement to say it will come back, despite a number of direct approaches and newspaper articles on the subject.

There is a specific element of the Domestic Abuse Bill that if it were to fall would be the greatest blow and that is in regard to the cross examination of victims by their perpetrators in the family courts. A number of parliamentary debates and events and urgent questions have been held on this subject. MPs stood up and told harrowing stories of their constituents who had had been faced off in court by men who had raped them, humiliated them, beaten and abused them. In the most extreme case parliament heard about a prisoner on day release from serving a murder charge able to attend family court and ask for access to the children, whose mother he had killed.

In a rare moment of consensus, it was agreed in 2016 that the law would be updated to end this harmful practice through the then Prisons and Courts Bill 2017. The Government agreed to include our cross-party amendments in the bill and it advanced to second reading.

However, Theresa May then called the general election and the changes fell.

As soon as we returned other MPs, campaigners and I pressed ministers to reintroduce this in the new Courts Bill which resurfaced post the 2017 election.

We were however told that the bill was too narrow to include this and assured that we mustn’t worry as it could go in to the Domestic Abuse Bill. We waited patiently, while that bill was put off again and again. Finally it reached us, but now we find ourselves in the exact same position. Week in, week out victims of domestic abuse and rape are facing their perpetrators and being cross examined by them in court: these people cannot wait.  

The head of the Family Court Division then and now both agree this practice should end; the government, and all opposition parties, agreed this should end – but the legislative vehicle once again fails the victims in this country who are never the priority.

Parliament must have some assurances that this and other areas of the Domestic Abuse bill, that will save lives, will be carried over or immediately revived. So far we have none.

Domestic abuse victims are simply collateral damage of party politicking. They were initially failed because Theresa May thought she was a shoe in for a massive majority, they are now being failed because the Prime Minister is gambling their well-being for a windfall win.  

In a time when we are told that the Executive is just shutting parliament in order to deliver a new vision, where are these victims in that vision? At a time when the Executive say they can use their powers to do things without parliaments say so, why do they never say that about laws that help the people in the country? Why wasn’t banning cross examinations ever the thing that made them say, “forget legislative protocols, lets just get this done”?

Why is their gambling never for the benefit of the people? Why wasn’t it this that they took a risk to push through quickly? Three years on, nothing has changed, I’m starting to think it never will.

Jess Phillips is Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley and Deputy Editor of The House magazine