10:37, May 28 241 0 theguardian.com

2020-05-28 10:37:03
Survivors of domestic abuse told to give evidence in person at Commons

Domestic abuse survivors have been told they must appear in person to give evidence to MPs despite raising concerns about coronavirus infection risks.

The requirement has raised criticism from charities and campaigning groups.

Eighteen domestic abuse and women’s rights groups, including Women’s Aid, Refuge, and Amnesty International, have written to the leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, to say it is unacceptable to require survivors of domestic abuse to attend parliament in person.

So-called hybrid parliament arrangements, allowing individuals to provide evidence to scrutiny committees via video link, are set to end next week following a decision by Rees-Mogg.

At least three women who have experienced domestic abuse are to give evidence on 4 June to the public bill committee for the domestic abuse bill, a long-awaited piece of legislation going through parliament. The role of the committee, made up of 17 MPs, including ministers, is to scrutinise the legislation line by line.

Nicki Norman, the acting co-chief executive of Women’s Aid, said: “We welcome the public bill committee’s decision to hear the expert evidence of domestic abuse survivors, as they scrutinise the landmark domestic abuse bill.

“However, it is clearly wrong to require them to give evidence in person. This requirement is unsafe for survivors, especially for women from black and minority ethnic communities and those with disabilities. It will put survivors and staff supporting them at risk and force them to breach current government guidance.

“The government must urgently reconsider this requirement. We also urge the bill committee to make time to hear from a wide range of organisations working to end domestic abuse, including organisations supporting marginalised survivors whose voices are often unheard.”

Other signatories to the letter include the End Violence Against Women Coalition, Respect, SafeLives, and Rape Crisis England and Wales.

The Cabinet Office has been approached for comment.

A Commons spokesperson said: “The scheduling of legislation in the Commons is a matter for the government. Staff have been drawing up plans for socially distanced, physical, public bill committee meetings. Work is being undertaken to enable such committees to take evidence remotely from mid-June.”

The domestic abuse bill includes plans to force domestic abusers to take polygraph tests, commonly referred to as lie detectors. Among other proposals the legislation pledges to ban perpetrators from cross-examining their victims during family court proceedings and could require councils to find safe accommodation for victims and their children.