In a move which heralds a victory for victims of domestic abuse, the government published a new domestic abuse sentencing guideline on 22nd February 2018. The guideline serves as a timely update from the previous guideline of 2006, which was notably outdated.
The new guideline seeks to address the seriousness of domestic abuse when sentencing those offences that involve domestic abuse such as assault, sexual offences or harassment. In contrast to the 2006 guideline which stated that offences committed in a domestic context should be seen as no less serious than those in non-domestic context, the new guideline states that those offences which are committed in a domestic context are more serious than those in a non-domestic context.
This elevation of the seriousness of domestic abuse above abuse in a non-domestic context is recognition that domestic abuse is rarely a one-off incident, but in reality it is likely to become more regular and more serious the longer it continues. Sandra Horley, Chief Executive of Refuge, a charity that campaigns against domestic violence for women and children, welcomed the guideline: “I am glad that the Courts will be encouraged to recognise that everybody has the right to feel safe in their own home”.
The new guideline is also a welcome correction of the common misconception that domestic abuse applies only to physical violence. The new guideline emphasises that domestic abuse encompasses a range of forms of abuse including financial, emotional, psychological and physical. The new guideline also brings the definition of domestic abuse into the 21st Century as it confirms that domestic abuse is no longer confined to person-to-person contact but extends to technology, for example through social media, email and tracking devices.
While the underlying aim of the guideline is to re-enforce sentencing guidelines for crimes involving domestic abuse, domestic abuse will often be a trigger for an application for an injunction in family law. Injunctions ultimately seek to protect a party from violence, harassment and threats and therefore the definition of domestic abuse is fundamental.
If you have been, or are a victim of domestic abuse and wish to discuss matters raised in this article, please contact a member of the Family and Divorce team on 020 3814 2020 who would be pleased to speak with you.