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The government has been urged to change the law to stop domestic abusers being let “off the hook” by the current six-month time limit for prosecutions.
A cross-party group including both Tory and Labour MPs, led by home affairs committee chair Yvette Cooper, has tabled an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which returns to the Commons on Monday.
It would extend the time limit for bringing charges for common assault in a domestic abuse case to two years.
Cooper told HuffPost UK that, unlike with other crimes, in domestic abuse cases there were “obvious and serious reasons” why victims might take more time to report it to the police.
“They could be in an ongoing abusive relationship or struggling with the logistical challenges of leaving,” she said.
“When women do have the courage to come forward and report incidents to the police, they are being told they cannot seek justice because a few months has passed or because the police investigation took too long.
“That lets perpetrators off the hook and leaves victims feeling more vulnerable than ever. This is just another example of where the criminal justice system is badly failing women.”
The amendment is backed by former Conservative children’s minister Tim Loughton and Tory MP Simon Fell.
Former Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman and ex-shadow home secretary Diane Abbott have also thrown their support behind it.
Cooper said the government “needs to act” by acceptin the plan when it comes to the Commons.
It also has the backing of Refuge, Women’s Aid, Centre for Women’s Justice and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner.
Domestic abuse charities have warned that even women who do report within the six-month time limit, can have their cases timed out because the police didn’t complete their investigation in time.
One victim told Women’s Aid the man who assaulted her was arrested by police for common assault, but as the incidents were more than six months in the past she was told the case could not be reopened.
“At the time I did not press charges so they don’t seem to care,” she said.
Farah Nazeer, the chief executive of the Women’s Aid Federation of England, said survivors “face huge personal and societal barriers in reporting domestic abuse”.
“The six-month limit fails to recognise that women simply may not be able to report until after they’ve escaped the abuser and found safety, and cases can often be complex and lengthy to investigate,” she said.
“The six-month ‘time out’ on common assault in cases of domestic abuse must be extended to ensure survivors can access justice.”