May 11, 2021
Weil’s London office supported the work of longstanding pro bono client Refuge in influencing the U.K.’s Domestic Abuse Bill, which received Royal Assent on April 29, 2021 and is now enshrined in law as the Domestic Abuse Act. The Act, which primarily applies to England and Wales, introduces a statutory definition of domestic abuse, which emphasizes that domestic abuse is not just physical violence, but can include coercive or controlling behavior, emotional abuse and economic abuse. The Act also aims to provide additional support mechanisms to survivors of domestic abuse, including strengthening existing laws surrounding controlling or coercive behaviour, targeting intimate image abuse and ending the "rough sex defense" in court, while also recognizing children as victims of domestic abuse in their own right.
Refuge, the largest specialist provider of gender-based violence services in the United Kingdom, approached Weil in April 2019 to assist with its work on the Bill, which at that stage was under pre-legislative scrutiny and was intended to pass through Parliament in November 2019. Due to changes in government, Brexit and COVID-19, the process of passing the Bill instead lasted two years, on top of the two years it took to bring the Bill to Parliament from when it was first introduced in the 2017 Queen's Speech. The Weil team provided legal research and ongoing counseling to Refuge’s policy team throughout this time to ensure that momentum was maintained in influencing a number of amendments to the Bill.
These amendments, with which Weil assisted Refuge, aimed to achieve two objectives: 1) the recognition of domestic abuse as a form of gender-based violence in U.K. law; and 2) changes to the welfare benefits system in the United Kingdom, which unintentionally penalizes victims of domestic abuse and may prohibit victims from fleeing their perpetrator. Although the proposed amendments were not inserted in the Act, Refuge considers the campaign to have been successful with some very positive outcomes, which will assist the organization in continuing to work with the government to improve the lives of survivors.
Weil’s London team included partner Gemma Sage, counsel Hayley Lund and Lindsay Merritt, associates Ariadne Lyroudia, Victoria Lloyd, Kavisa Thacker, Frankie Cowl, Zoe Wedderburn-Day, Ilaria Olivero, Eilish Cassidy and Milo Palej, and legal executive Christine Howard.
Weil’s work on the Domestic Abuse Bill follows another significant pro bono matter with which the London office assisted Refuge pre-pandemic. That team, which included partner Barry Fishley and counsel Hayley Lund, advised Refuge on securing a government grant to run the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, which as a result of a rise in violence during the pandemic lockdowns, has proved more valuable than ever, with an increase in calls of 61% over the previous year.