Plaid Cymru has pledged to introduce a Bill in the next Parliament to prevent abusers continuing to harass and distress their victims through vexatious court applications and breaches of restraining orders.
The party’s justice spokesperson, Liz Saville Roberts, has pledged to introduce a Private Members’ Bill, if re-elected in June.
Currently thousands of victims of domestic abuse, coercive control and stalking are further victimised by their perpetrators by repeated violation of restraining orders through online contact or by applying to either the civil or family courts for spurious reasons to further humiliate their victim.
Research carried out by Plaid and Voice4Victims last month has shown that only half of the 122 victims of domestic abuse or stalking in the study had a restraining order in place and of those, two thirds did not prohibit online contact. In addition 55% were contacted by the convicted perpetrator through the courts with a third being directly cross-examined by them.
The survey found that 65% of victims said that the service from the police was either poor or extremely poor. Just 23% of those contacted through courts without legal merit were dealt with as a breach of the restraining order by the Police.
In the vast majority of cases staff in the Civil or Family Courts were unaware that the applicant had criminal convictions or prohibition orders in respect of the victim. There is no law that allows for the information to be made available to the non-criminal courts. The victim does not have a right to give such information about the perpetrator to the civil and family courts. This severely disadvantages the victim and causes extreme distress.
The Plaid Bill will:
- Ensure that all courts co-operate with each other when the same victim is involved in different jurisdictions;
- Give a victim the right to inform a Civil or a Family Court of any relevant convictions;
- Make it an offence for an applicant to fail to inform a court of relevant criminal convictions;
- Introduce a presumption of custody for multiple breaches of a restraining order;
- Give judges the power to dismiss vexatious applications;
- Prohibit the cross examination of a victim by their perpetrator; and
- Introduce mandatory training for all criminal justice staff.
Plaid Cymru’s justice spokesperson, Liz Saville Roberts said:
“Restraining orders clearly lack adequate sanctions to prevent online abuse and abuse of process through the courts causing further trauma, harm and mental distress to victims.
“There seems to be serious failings by criminal justice agencies and if re-elected, my Bill will give victims rights and restore the imbalance.
“Training for the police and crown prosecutors is essential if these victims are to be properly protected.”
Victims’ rights charity, Voice4Victims has worked with Plaid Cymru to draft the Bill.
Co-Director of Voice4Victims, Harry Fletcher said:
“There has been an extraordinary rise in the number of perpetrators initiating legal proceedings against their victims in order to emotionally harm them and continue unwanted contact.
“There must be a duty on abusers to inform the courts of any criminal convictions and severe sanctions if they fail to do so. Plaid Cymru’s Bill would deliver much needed changes to the justice system.”
The Bill is the latest in a series of Plaid Cymru initiatives tackling social justice for victims.
Plaid Cymru had just three MPs in the House of Commons in the previous parliament but punches well above its weight.
Previous successes have led to, or are leading to both legal and social change across the UK. They include:
- The first veterans’ forum in Parliament to raise awareness of the plight and needs of many veterans in jail, homeless or experiencing mental health issues;
- Establishing an inquiry into stalking which resulted in new laws;
- A Bill to recognise and create a new offence of coercive control in a domestic abuse setting which resulted in a new law;
- Introducing a Bill to give victims of crime rights in law which is now in the 2017 Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos;
- Updating the law on digital crime and raising awareness in Parliament and with the Police of the new dangers;
- Introducing a Private Members’ Bill to limit the cross-examination of rape victims about their sexual history which is likely to become law after the election;
- Pressing for the crimes of stalking, coercive control and possession of indecent images of children to be referred to the Attorney General if they are unduly lenient – this is now in the 2017 Conservative Party manifesto;
- Demanding that private probation companies be held to account following an appalling murder in South Wales. There is now a Government review;
- Improve the laws on domestic violence through prevention, better investigation and prosecution and improved protection post-conviction. This too is in the Tory manifesto; and
- Introducing an amendment to the Digital Economies Bill to ensure that social media providers do more to protect victims from hate crime and bullying which the Government accepted in April 2017.
Notes to editors:
All the campaigns were led by Plaid with all party support and in conjunction with organisations such as Voice4Victims and the Digital-Trust.