Domestic abuse suspects face being banned from contacting their victims, drinking alcohol or taking drugs, and face electronic tagging to monitor their movements under a new civil protection order as part of a consultation launched by Theresa May on Thursday.
Breaches of any of the conditions of the new domestic abuse protection civil order will be punishable as a criminal offence. Ministers say they are designed as an early intervention measure to shield victims from further abuse from unconvicted suspects.
Family, civil or criminal courts may grant the new orders on a “freestanding application” from a victim or a member of their family or a support service without the need for police backing.
The orders form part of a wide-ranging consultation on measures to be included in the government’s draft domestic abuse bill, which includes a new statutory definition of abuse that for the first time recognises economic abuse. This would include forcing someone to take out loans, withholding access to wages or bank accounts, food, clothing or transport.
The government consultation paper also includes proposals to create a domestic abuse commissioner, tougher sentences for domestic abuse cases involving children, and special measures for victims in court including testifying behind screens or by video link so they do not have contact with their abusers.
May, writing in the Guardian, said: “Thousands of women endure unimaginable violence and other forms of abuse every single day, often at the hands of those to whom they are closest, in the places they should be safest. I have heard many heart-wrenching stories, and I am determined to stop others suffering.”
She writes that the consultation proposals build on the work she started in the Home Office: “I was fortunate enough to grow up in a warm and loving home. It is hard for those of us who have safe and happy lives to truly walk in the shoes of those who live with domestic abuse every single day. I want everyone to live free from that threat, and every child to grow up safe and protected, just as I did.”
The home secretary, Amber Rudd, said that nearly 2 million people every year – the majority of them women – suffer domestic abuse: “Through this bill I want to fundamentally change the way we as a country think about domestic abuse, recognising that it is a crime that comes in many forms – physical, emotional, economic. This is about creating a society that protects individuals and families at the earliest opportunity.”
The consultation paper says the new civil domestic protection orders could include flexible conditions such as not contacting the victim, including online, not to go within a certain distance of the victim, and bans on drinking alcohol or taking drugs.
Positive requirements could include attending programmes on parenting or to address their underlying attitudes, as well as drug or alcohol treatment. They could also be required to notify the police of any relationship, as well as being electronically tagged to monitor their movements. As yet undefined criminal sanctions would follow a breach of the conditions.
The duration of the orders would be determined by the courts in each case, in contrast to the current protection orders which have a 28-day limit.
The first ever statutory definition of domestic abuse would cover psychological, physical, sexual, economic and emotional abuse, and would not be limited to women and girls but recognise abuse that happens in all relationships.
Labour’s shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, said there was more the government could and should do: “Any measures to combat domestic violence are welcome, however this Tory government has spent the last eight years cutting the very services those fleeing abuse rely on.
“Domestic violence is one of the toughest crimes to police effectively and it’s become much more difficult because of the Tories’ cutting 21,000 police and support for women’s refuges,” she said.
Harry Fletcher, founder of the Victims’ Rights Campaign, also welcomed the draft bill but noted that no timetable has yet been set out for its parliamentary progress: “The government’s future domestic abuse reforms will only be effective if they are properly funded.”
He said the Victims’ Rights Campaign and Plaid Cymru ran an effective campaign to create a new offence of coercive control in 2015. “Two years later and just 20% of frontline police have been trained and, not surprisingly, there have not been many prosecutions for this serious crime. If the consultation reaches victims of abuse it will result in positive change but only if the culture within the justice system towards those victims changes too.”