Concerns Expressed Over UK Domestic Abuse Bill

The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) has written to the United Kingdom (UK) Government in order to raise concerns over how a draft Domestic Abuse Bill would fail to properly uphold established human rights. The letter particularly seeks to ensure that the bill meets the requirements of the Istanbul Convention, an international set of standards which was created in order to protect women from violence.

Labour MP Harriet Harman, Chair of the JCHR, is the author of the letter, which was based on the written proposals of over 70 stakeholders. On behalf of the Committee, she identifies a number of rights-based issues which leave the proposed bill in contravention of the Istanbul Convention.

Among the issues raised by Harman and the Committee is the fact that the bill applies only to England and Wales. Under the Istanbul Convention, the UK is charged with ensuring that the protections it affords is properly enforced within the whole of its jurisdiction. As it stands, Northern Ireland would not be covered by the Domestic Abuse Bill. The letter also raises issues surrounding the bill’s inadequate recognition of the rights of migrant women, and an unsatisfactory definition of “domestic abuse.”

Amnesty International has said that it welcomes the letter from the JCHR to the UK Government, stating that the letter highlights “failings” of the Domestic Abuse Bill.

In a published statement, Amnesty International quoted Chiaro Capraro, the organization’s Women’s Rights Manager, as saying: “This letter sheds important light on the unequal treatment of women across the UK. The current Bill neglects both women in Northern Ireland and migrant women. It seems that in the Government’s eyes, some lives matter more than others.”

Capraro also said: “This Bill is intended as a final step towards the UK ratifying the Istanbul Convention, but in its current form it not only falls short of the Convention’s requirements but risks dividing women into those who count and those who don’t.”

The Domestic Abuse Bill was published in January 2019 and was described by the Home Office as “the most comprehensive package ever to tackle domestic abuse.” Its stated aims were to increase the support available to the victims of domestic violence and their families, as well as doing more to pursue offenders, citing a claim that such issues cost the United Kingdom £66 billion per year.

In light of the fact that Northern Ireland is still the only part of the United Kingdom in which abortion is a criminal offence, it is of great importance that a bill concerned with preventing violence against women is applied in that area. Furthermore, at a time of strained communal tensions and heightened anti-migrant rhetoric in the United Kingdom, the rights of female migrants need to be protected more than ever. Any complete and wide-ranging response to the issue of domestic violence needs to be completely inclusive: the concerns raised by the JCHR need to be addressed before the Domestic Abuse Bill can claim to be so.