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Restraining order powers to further protect victims of domestic violence and harassment

A powerful tool to help protect victims of harassment including domestic abuse will come into effect next month, the Government confirmed today.

From 30 September courts will have greater freedom to grant restraining orders when abusers appear before them, giving victims immediate protection and sparing them the ordeal of a separate civil action.

Currently courts can only issue restraining orders following conviction for two types of offences: harassment or putting someone in fear of violence. Under the new rules an order can be made following conviction for any offence and even where someone is acquitted in order to better protect victims. Breaking the terms of a restraining order is a criminal offence punishable by up to five years in prison.

Today’s announcement coincides with the publication of the National Domestic Violence Delivery Plan 2008/9.

Home Office Minister Lord West said:

“Domestic violence is a devastating crime which impacts across all communities.
We continue to make good progress in tackling this hateful crime and conviction rates are improving – 72 per cent of cases charged and brought to court at the end of 2008/09 resulted in a conviction compared with 60 per cent four years ago.

“The additional powers announced today will also help victims in need of immediate protection and spare them the need to take separate civil action.

“But there is still more to be done and I look forward to the launch of the cross-government Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy in November and further measures to help victims and prevent violence.”

Harriet Harman, Minister for Women and Equality, said:

“Domestic violence is totally unacceptable. Since 1997 we have strengthened the law, increased sentences, and improved the way police, courts and the criminal justice system support victims of domestic violence, which has led to a 64 per cent drop in incidents of domestic violence.

"But we are committed to doing more. These new restraining orders will mean that a woman does not have to go from pillar to post, immediately giving her protection from harassment.”

Nicola Harwin, Chief Executive of Women's Aid, said:

"Women's Aid welcomes the report and looks forward to the launch of the Violence against Women and Girls strategy in November. We must improve protection for those affected by abuse and welcome the many initiatives over the last 10 years to improve protection. These restraining orders will provide a valuable new tool to help protect victims.

"Women's Aid also welcomes proposals for improved prevention work with young people in schools. Evidence shows that although many young people will not tolerate domestic violence, up to a million girls and boys in the UK are at risk every year."

The report shows that the Government has made significant headway in ensuring perpetrators of violence against women are effectively dealt with and victims supported.

Key achievements in 2008/9 include:

- allocating funding of £500,000 towards the National Domestic Violence Helpline run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge, which received over 137,000 calls last year;

- the Crown Prosecution Service reaching 72 per cent for successful prosecutions with the number of unsuccessful outcomes in domestic violence cases falling significantly;

- funding of £225,000 provided to train 75 Independent Domestic Violence Advisers;

- an increase in the number of multi-agency risk assessment conferences (MARACs) which meet to protect high risk victims of domestic violence to more than 200. Last year more than 24,000 cases had been brought to MARAC involving 34,000 children;

- implementation of the Forced Marriage Act. The Forced Marriage Unit saw a 27 per cent increase in the number of cases as more people sought help than ever before; and

- expanding the Specialist Domestic Violence Court (SDVC) programme to 122 in order to bring more perpetrators to justice.

NOTES TO EDITORS

1. Copies of the National Domestic Violence Delivery Plan Annual Progress Report 2008/09 are available at www.homeoffice.gov.uk

2. Restraining orders can be a powerful tool in protecting victims in cases from harassment, but have previously been available only in limited circumstances: where the defendant has been convicted of harassment or putting someone in fear of violence. Allowing courts to impose orders following conviction for any offence will improve the protection available to all victims.

3. Section 12 of the Domestic Violence Crime and Victims Act 2004 extends the courts’ powers under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, to enable them to impose restraining orders following conviction for any offence or on acquittal, if it is considered necessary to protect a named person from harassment in the future. It also gives any person mentioned in a restraining order the right to make representations in court if an application is made to vary or terminate the order.

4. There has been a 64 per cent decline in the incidence of domestic violence between 1997 and 2008/09 as measured by the British Crime Survey.

5. The Government is committed to ensuring that women and girls are not subject to any form of violence and launched a cross-government consultation in March. This was the widest ever consultation on violence against women and girls, engaging with the public and front-line professionals and service providers. A cross-government Violence Against Women and Girls strategy will be published in the Autumn. Copies of the consultation document are available from http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/documents/cons-2009-vaw/

6. For more information contact the Home Office press office on 020 7035 3535.

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