The Domestic Violence Act 2007 has led to fewer victims of domestic violence seeking help, it was claimed today.
Victims of domestic violence who have violent partners are said to be reluctant seek a non-molestation order because breaching it is now a criminal offence and they fear their partners will get a criminal record or a prison sentence of up to five years. Prior to the Domestic Violence Act, which came into force last July, the matter would have been dealt with through the civil courts.
It is claimed that the situation could be putting around 5,000 people a year at increased risk. A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said the department is setting up a meeting with judges to discuss the problem.
Judge John Platt, a circuit judge dealing with domestic violence cases, told the Times today that he estimated that the number of women seeking non-molestation orders had fallen by between 25 and 30% since July 2007 compared to 2006 figures when there were 20,000 such applications.
"Obviously this is a very worrying figure. Either offenders have changed their behaviour - which seems extremely unlikely - or the victims do not want to criminalise the perpetrators," Judge Platt told the Times.
A spokesman for Sir Mark Potter, president of the family division of the high court, confirmed that other judges were also worried about the decline in the number of applications for non-molestation orders.
Sir Potter was "very concerned that, for whatever reason, the legislation appears to have led to a reduction rather than an increase in the protection afforded to victims of domestic violence as a result of the change of the law", the spokesman said.