Change in UK LawThe Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Ratification of Convention) Bill was first put forward as a private members’ bill by Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP to “make provision in connection with the ratification” of the Istanbul Convention. This was intended as a first step towards ensuring the eventual incorporation into domestic law of the Istanbul Convention and its comprehensive legal framework on ending violence against women and girls by requiring the government.
It had its first reading in the House of Commons on 29 June 2016, making its way through the various bill stages eventually to receive Royal Assent as an Act of Parliament on 27 April 2017.
The new law requires the government to set out a timetable for ratification of the Istanbul Convention, together with putting forward a comprehensive report setting out the steps which are required to be taken on a domestic level in order for the UK to ratify the Istanbul Convention. The government will be further required to report on an annual basis the progress being made towards ratification of the Convention; for example changes being made in domestic legislation to incorporate the extra-territorial effect, which had until now been viewed as a particularly significant challenge, including across the devolved administrations. This will therefore ensure that a consistent approach to ratification of the Convention is being taken by properly coordinating each of the devolved administrations. The first of these reports must be laid before the Houses of Parliament before 1 November 2017, sending the clear message that reform with a view to ratification of the Convention is now a priority.
Furthermore, once it has been deemed that the UK and its legislation is compliant with the requirements set out by the Istanbul Convention, the government will be required to make a statement to the Houses of Parliament determining that this is the case, and providing a date by which the government would expect the Istanbul Convention to be ratified.
The clear emphasis of the new Act is therefore on accountability of the government. The annual reporting requirements and deadlines are encouraging in that they put a clear onus on the government to take substantive action from now onwards to reform domestic legislation which is not yet compliant with the Istanbul Convention.
It is not yet certain how quickly these reforms can and will be introduced to give effect to the Istanbul Convention. Whilst provisions such as those giving extra-territorial effect to certain offences may take a difficult and lengthy route through the legislative process, it is anticipated that other provisions incorporating the various other requirements of the Istanbul Convention may have an easier time. By and large, the UK is one of the most advanced, Istanbul Convention ready countries in the world but additional legislation would provide:
Any next steps are likely to now be on hold until the General Election has taken place on 8 June this year. Coincidentally, this date is significant as it will mark five years since the government signed the Istanbul Convention and in doing so pledged its commitment to bring into effect the protective measures embodied by the Convention. We will be following and reporting on the progress made by the government in bringing this commitment to life.
- An adequate number of refuges, including specialist services;
- Sufficient provision of rape crisis or sexual violence referral centres;
- Psychological support for victims of violence;
- Free 24/7 helplines for all forms of violence; and
- Education in schools on topics such as violence against women and girls, equality of treatment between men and women, the right to personal integrity, and healthy relationships.
iFLG strongly supports the positive movement towards wholesale protection and gender-neutral support of victims of violence and congratulates Dr Eilidh Whiteford, the IC Change campaign and the other coalition of supporters for their roles in bringing about this change in the law. It remains to be seen how long it will take for the UK to ratify the Istanbul Convention but the Royal Assent marks a pivotal step in the right direction and it now appears to be a question of when, rather than if, this will eventually happen.
For more on domestic violence law and practice in the international context see Chapter 20 of 'The International Family Law Practice', fifth edition, Family Law.
Fatimah Farag is an Assistant Solicitor with the International Family Law Group LLP. She undertakes a varied caseload but primarily deals with financial issues arising from the breakdown of a relationship. As well as managing her own caseload, Fatimah regularly works as a team member in complex financial cases and those with cross-jurisdictional issues. She is particularly sensitive when acting for clients for whom religion and culture plays a significant part in family life.
David Hodson OBE MCIArb is a co-founder and partner at The International Family Law Group LLP, London. He is an English solicitor, arbitrator and mediator and also an Australian qualified solicitor, and sits as a part-time family court judge at the Central Family Court. He is an Accredited Specialist (with portfolios in Substantial Assets and International Cases), a Member of the English Law Society Family Law Committee, a Fellow of the International Academy of Family Lawyers, a Fellow of the Centre for Social Justice, and a member of the Family Law Section of the Law Council of Australia. He is author of “The International Family Law Practice” (Family Law, 5th edition Dec 2016). He is visiting Professor at the University of Law. He received the OBE for services to international family law.
Madeleine Gordon is the Business Communications Manager for iFLG.
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