Campaigners and the domestic abuse commissioner applauded an announcement by ministers promising to make sure “judges retain full discretion to hand down prison sentences” to perpetrators of domestic abuse.
It comes after The Independent revealed that 11,040 men were jailed for around 12 months or less for harassment, stalking and revenge porn last year – all sentences that it was feared could be served in the community as the government scrambles to free up space in overcrowded jails.
Politicians, campaigners and the government’s own domestic violence watchdog previously told The Independent they were fearful domestic abusers and stalkers could “slip through the net”, while Labour warned the proposals had been “rushed out with no consideration for victims”.
Reality TV star Georgia Harrison, who was a victim of revenge porn at the hands of her former partner, Stephen Bear, raised concerns over the repercussions axing short sentences could have on victims.
But on Tuesday, the government announced that “stalkers, abusers, and prolific offenders continue to face time behind bars”. It said domestic abusers would still face prison time, with judges able to imprison all offenders who pose a substantial risk of “psychological or physical harm” to their victim.
Ministers also said that those who breach restraining orders or stalking prevention orders would be exempt from new proposals axing year-long sentences.
Mr Chalk said: “We want domestic abuse victims to know this government is on their side, so we will do everything possible to protect them from those who cause harm, or threaten to do so.
“That’s why we are ensuring that judges retain full discretion to hand down prison sentences to domestic abusers – to give victims the confidence to rebuild their lives knowing their tormentors are safely behind bars.”
Nicole Jacobs, domestic abuse commissioner, said it was “absolutely right that the justice secretary has committed to ensuring victims of domestic abuse do not lose out on the justice and protection they need”.
She added: “Perpetrators of domestic abuse are often repeat offenders and their sentences often do not reflect the severity of harm and the risk they pose.”
Ms Jacobs urged the criminal justice system to “improve its response to domestic abuse as a matter of urgency”, highlighting that only 4 per cent of domestic abuse offences reported to the police lead to a conviction.
“Public trust in the police is at an all-time low following a series of reports of horrendous domestic abuse and sexual violence crimes perpetrated by police officers themselves,” she added.
Ellie Butt, of domestic abuse charity Refuge, said: “While we are yet to see the details, Refuge is pleased to see the important exemption of domestic abuse perpetrators announced in the sentencing measures announced by the Ministry of Justice.”
She said the charity routinely witnesses perpetrators of domestic abuse getting short custodial sentences, of 12 months or shorter, irrespective of “the serious nature of their crimes”.
Ms Butt added: “On average, two women a week are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales. This is a harrowing statistic.”
Anyone who requires help or support can contact the National Domestic Abuse Helpline which is open 24/7 365 days per year on 0808 2000 247 or via their website https://www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk/