Change in Domestic Violence Law

UK Law Commission proposes changes in the law to cover minor harm

The Law Commission has announced its intent to investigate whether legislation surrounding the Offences Against the Person Act should be updated to include domestic violence. As with many UK laws, including homicide law which remains relatively unchanged since its inception, it is felt that the current law on violence against individuals is too archaic.

The Commission also hopes that any proposals will enable a better of balance of power between the sexes.

This seems at first a strange phrase to use, as of course victims of domestic violence can be of any gender. The roots of the comment may be directed, however, at the current inadequacy of legal defences. It has long been said by commentators that the defence of provocation is highly weighted in favour of a male aggressor. This is due to the fact that it involves a 'snap', brief moment of violence which is fatal, something men are physically more likely to accomplish than women.

Whether these new proposals will suffer from the same endemic sexism that is indentured through the law will remain to be seen, but whilst it is encouraging to see an attempt to level the gender playing field more will need to be done in examining the broad, general legal concepts that underpin the entire system.

For example, even the Lexis used in the legal system is heavily weighted in the male image, phraseology such as the 'reasonable man' (an imaginary standard which defendants are often held against) is steeped in entrenched male bias.

However gender issues aside the proposals do have merits in other areas, such as cost. By creating an offence that will cover 'minor' injuries it will enable most cases to be tried in the Magistrates Court at a lesser cost to those at the Crown.

Social services will also have a record to show a history of offences against a defendant's partner which will no doubt be helpful in supporting families and encourage police to respond appropriately to incidents.

The Commission does have fear, however, that in rigidly defining domestic violence as a separate offence it might accidentally negatively distinguish offences against family members from 'real' violence.

It will be important therefore that the proposals strike a balance between defining the offence narrowly enough to make it a clear, separate category but wide enough to cover the appropriate level of wrongdoing.

Prime Minister David Cameron has shown support for the introduction of an offence dealing with domestic violence, as has the shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, showing an encouraging inter-party support for the reforms.