Domestic abuse: Lie-detector tests planned for offenders

Lie-detector testImage copyright Science Photo Library

Domestic violence offenders in England and Wales could face compulsory lie-detector tests when released from prison under proposed new laws.

Those deemed at high risk of re-offending will be given regular polygraph tests to find out if they have breached release conditions.

Measures to combat “tech abuse” and “financial abuse” are also in the long-awaited Domestic Violence Bill.

Alleged abusers will also be banned from cross-examining victims in court.

Lie-detector tests – which work by measuring changes in heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate and sweat – are not 100% accurate.

But the Home Office said it was already using the tests to monitor high-risk sex offenders and had found them to be 89% accurate.

The government also plans to use lie-detector tests on convicted terrorists freed under licence.

If the Domestic Abuse Bill passes, a three-year pilot will be carried out on domestic abusers which are deemed at high-risk of causing serious harm. If successful, the scheme will be rolled out nationwide.

Slow progress

Around 300 offenders will take a lie detector test three months after their release and every six months after that, according to the Home Office.

Those who fail the test will not be returned to prison – but they may be jailed if they refuse to take the test or attempt to “trick” it, the Home Office added.

They can also be returned to prison if the tests show “their risk has escalated to level whereby they can no longer be safely managed in the community”.

Information gathered from failed lie-detector tests is routinely shared with the police who use it to carry out further investigations.

Campaigners say action to help the nearly two million victims of domestic abuse in the UK each year, two thirds of whom are women, is long overdue.

The Conservatives first proposed tougher measures in their 2017 election manifesto but legislative progress has been slow.

The Domestic Abuse Bill was among several proposed laws which fell by the wayside last autumn after Boris Johnson suspended Parliament and MPs subsequently voted for an early general election.

The government is now bringing back the legislation, saying MPs will be presented with an “enhanced” package of measures that will “protect victims and punish perpetrators” of this “horrendous” crime.

‘Hidden victims’

There will also be a ban on perpetrators cross-examining their victims during family court proceedings and a legal duty on councils to find safe accommodation for domestic abuse victims and their children.

Charity Women’s Aid said this could be a “life-saving” move, but only if it was accompanied by guaranteed funding for specialist women’s services – including for “marginalised” groups in society, which it estimates will cost about £173m a year.

While welcoming many of the initiatives, children’s charities warned that some families with children risked “falling through the cracks in support”.

“The bill risks dividing victims into ‘haves and have nots’,” said Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan.

“Children are the hidden victims of domestic abuse, suffering trauma that can last a lifetime.

“I’m disappointed that while the Domestic Abuse Bill may improve access to refuges, it will not help the majority of victims and children who remain in the family home.”

Image caption Campaigners say refuges need to be properly funded

The NSPCC’s senior policy officer Emily Hilton said it was “extremely disappointing that the bill in its current form fails to protect children from the devastating impact of living with domestic abuse, leaving thousands at continued risk because the help they deserve is not in place”.

‘Tech abuse’

The Home Office said the UK’s new domestic abuse commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, would consider what support the government can provide children who have been affected by domestic abuse.

The legislation will also enshrine a new definition of domestic abuse in law that recognises economic abuse – when a perpetrator controls a victim’s finances – as a specific type of the crime. It will also acknowledge the use of technology to target a victim, so-called “tech abuse”.

Court protection orders banning perpetrators from contacting a victim or forcing them to take part in alcohol or drug treatment programmes may also be introduced.

Support for migrant domestic abuse victims will also be reviewed, while ministers will consider what more can be done to stop the so-called “rough sex” defence being used by perpetrators in court.

The majority of the measures in the Domestic Abuse Bill will apply only to England and Wales, but it will create a specific new criminal offence in Northern Ireland of controlling or coercive behaviour, already on the statute book in the rest of the UK.

Certain provisions in the bill also apply to court proceedings in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

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