The breakdown of the family is the political issue of the moment. But the storm over the domestic violence and divorce bills demonstrates that political fashion makes for bad legislation. Mary Tuck explains whyby Mary Tuck / December 20, 1995 / Leave a comment
It is hard to understand what motivated the Tory party’s decision to withdraw the Lord Chancellor’s Bill on domestic violence. The Bill was likely to have been popular with public opinion-given the known public desire to reduce violence against women.
Thankfully, it now seems likely that the provisions of the Bill will be brought back as part of the new divorce legislation to be put before the House in the coming session. For the Tories-lagging at the polls and desperate to recover electoral popularity-the publicity risks of withdrawing the Bill ultimately seemed rather larger than those of pursuing it. The Conservative party does not want to be named as the party which does not care about violence against women.
The Family Homes and Domestic Violence Bill had been preceded by the utmost possible public consultation and planning. Domestic violence accounts for about one quarter of all violent crime in the UK; nearly one quarter of all murders. And it reproduces itself. Over one third of the inhabitants of our prisons have been in care as children. Most violent criminals have themselves witnessed or experienced extreme violence as children. To prevent violent crime, now and in the future, we should first prevent violence in the family.
In 1991 I myself chaired a victim support working party on domestic violence, which brought together the police, the Law Society, the probation service, marriage guidance counsellors, doctors, victim support volunteers and many others. We all saw the same need for urgent reform; agreed on what was needed and produced a detailed report.
Domestic violence is widespread. The remedies which exist for it in current law are ill-understood and do not work. Our report made front page news in the papers, including the Daily Mail, when it was released in 1992. It was warmly welcomed on all sides and followed by a report on domestic violence issues from the Home Affairs Committee of the House of Commons, which made similar recommendations.
Bills which simply reform existing legislation are hard to find time for on the parliamentary timetable. They lack the newsy ring of proposals to privatise this or nationalise that. So there was much rejoicing when new procedures were devised by parliament-the so-called “Jellicoe” procedures-which allowed a Bill based on unanimously welcomed recommendations to find parliamentary time. The lot of battered women might actually have been improved.
But in a moral panic to beat…