Victims of domestic violence will be given two years to report crimes as Dominic Raab said that he wants to put the “fear of God” into abusers.
The Justice Secretary said that victims would no longer be denied justice simply because they failed to report their domestic assault to police within the current six-month time limit.
Writing exclusively in The Telegraph, below, he said that the current rule meant that perpetrators in “too many cases” evaded punishment because by the time the victim had recovered and built up the courage to go to police, they were “timed out”.
Mr Raab said that the change, part of a raft of measures to combat violence against women, would “leave the door to justice open to thousands of victims”. Figures showed that the number timed out because they failed to meet a six-month deadline increased from 1,451 in 2016-17 to 3,763 in 2020-21.
Restoring confidence among women
“For many, the fear of being out alone after dark, or that they may be beaten in their own home, is a grim everyday reality. We must turn that situation around,” he said.
“I want us to give those women back the confidence to live life without having to look anxiously over their shoulder, and instil the fear of God into the minds of anyone who would contemplate threatening a woman or girl.”
Mr Raab cited new measures, including longer sentences for sex crimes, the nationwide rollout of pre-recorded evidence for rape victims, league tables for rape prosecution rates, a police focus on perpetrators rather than victims’ sexual pasts and a proposed new victims’ law.
He also announced that people who photograph or film breastfeeding women without permission will face up to two years in jail under a new criminal offence.
Taking non-consensual photographs or video recordings of breastfeeding mothers will be a specific voyeurism offence and cover “situations where the motive is to obtain sexual gratification, or to cause humiliation, distress or alarm”.
The decision comes after Stella Creasy, the Labour MP for Walthamstow, campaigned for legal reforms after being photographed breastfeeding her baby on public transport. Similar legislation introduced by the Government in 2019 that criminalised “upskirting” has led to more than 30 prosecutions.
“Every mother has the right to breastfeed without someone that they don’t know, or don’t want, trying to film or photograph them, for their own warped reasons,” said Mr Raab.
The changes will be enacted through amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill currently before Parliament.
Reversing a worrying trend
Over the past five years, 12,982 cases have ended because of the six-month limit passing, according to data obtained from 30 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales.
A person is guilty of common assault if they inflict violence on another person or make that person think they are about to be attacked. This is not limited to physically violent acts – threatening words or a raised fist could lead the victim to believe they are going to be attacked.
Between 2016-17 and 2020-21, the total number of common assaults flagged as instances of domestic abuse increased by 71 per cent from 99,134 to 170,013. In the same time period, the number of these common assaults that resulted in charges being brought fell by 23 per cent.
Nicole Jacobs, the domestic abuse commissioner for England and Wales, welcomed the reform: “I want to see increased prosecutions for domestic abuse, and hope to see that as these measures remove another barrier to bringing perpetrators to justice.”
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, who campaigned against the six-month limit, welcomed the move, but said that the Government needed to go further to reverse plummeting rape and domestic abuse conviction rates.
“Too many perpetrators are being let off, too many victims are being let down,” she said.
It’s time to restore women’s faith in the criminal justice system
By Dominic Raab, the Justice Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister
Like the rest of the country, I was shocked and horrified by the killings of Sarah Everard, Sabina Nessa, Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman. Beyond the headlines in these tragic cases, the scale of violence against women and girls is sickening.
Working with the Home Secretary and Attorney General, I am determined to make the criminal justice system far more sensitive to the needs of female victims, and relentless in pursuing their perpetrators.
In the 12 months to March 2020, 1.6 million women experienced domestic abuse. Over 600,000 were sexually assaulted. Almost 900,000 were stalked. For many, the fear of being out alone after dark, or that they may be beaten in their own home, is a grim everyday reality.
We must turn that situation around. I want us to give those women back the confidence to live life without having to look anxiously over their shoulder, and instil the fear of God into the minds of anyone who would contemplate threatening a woman or girl.
There’s no single silver bullet to achieve this. As a government, we’re putting together all the pieces of a strategy that will tackle the issue at every level. Last year, we passed the Domestic Abuse Act to strengthen powers to deal with abusers, and increase support for victims in court.
No half measures when it comes to justice
We are scrapping the automatic halfway release for serious sexual offences, so that perpetrators stay behind bars for longer. And the new “serious violence duty” will ensure criminal justice agencies and local agencies in the community work more closely together to protect people from harm, including through earlier intervention.
Before Christmas, I published the first Criminal Justice Scorecards, which shine a light on how well the police and Crown Prosecution Service are tackling rape and sexual violence, and the first progress report on our Rape Review Action Plan – so we can better target the parts of the system that are failing victims, and spread best practice.
We are expanding the pilots of Operation Soteria, under which police and prosecutors are working more closely together to prevent the scrutiny of those reporting rape eclipsing the proper focus on investigating the suspect.
When the victim of rape gets to trial, we are giving them the option to pre-record their evidence, so they are spared the ordeal of giving evidence under the glare of the courtroom. We have been trialling the technology and will now roll it out nationwide.
And our plans for a new Victims’ Law will make sure all victims have confidence that they will be listened to and supported at every step of the way. Under the proposals, we will increase the victims’ surcharge, paid by offenders found guilty, and use the money to boost funding for victims’ services – which is already three times the amount that was provided in 2010-11.
I am constantly looking for ways we can do better. So, we are setting out two further changes to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill – to better protect women.
More time to report a crime
First, we will make sure victims of domestic abuse aren’t denied justice because of time limits on prosecutions that allow perpetrators to evade punishment. Many victims of domestic abuse delay coming forward for entirely understandable reasons. They may be too afraid, feel trapped, or hold onto hope that their partner might change.
Victims of common assault involving domestic abuse have just six months to report the crime, from the date that the offence takes place. In too many cases, by the time a victim has recovered and built up the courage to go to the police, they are timed out.
Our change will start the six-month time limit from the date the victim reports the offence to police, with an overall limit of two years from when the offence took place. That will leave the door to justice open to thousands more victims.
Second, we’ll protect women when they are breastfeeding in a public place. Every mother has the right to breastfeed without someone that they don’t know, or don’t want, trying to film or photograph them for their own warped reasons.
Our change will mean that anyone who films or takes photographs of women breastfeeding without their consent, to harass or humiliate them, or for sexual gratification, will be committing a criminal offence, punishable by up to two years in prison.
Protecting women and girls, and giving them confidence in the criminal justice system, is my top priority as Justice Secretary. I am under no illusions about the scale of the challenge, but we are absolutely determined to achieve it – as we build back a safer, stronger and fairer country.