By Jack Doyle
Bullying husbands could face court for ’emotional abuse’ as domestic violence laws are tightened
Men accused of ‘bullying or abusing’ their wives could face criminal charges under new domestic violence laws.
It could mean prosecution for husbands who treat their wives in a controlling way but do not assault them physically.
The change is being proposed by Liberal Democrat ministers as part of a review of domestic violence to be published this week.
Ministers are also likely to confirm plans to criminalise parents who force their children into arranged marriages.
Critics of domestic violence laws point to the lack of an agreed legal definition or specific criminal offence for attacks in the home.
The guidelines could cover anyone exercising ‘coercive control’ over their partner.
This would include demonstrating a pattern of threatening behaviour or emotional abuse.
It could also cover ‘economic control’ and the manipulation of children.
For the first time, the law could make clear that under-18s can be victims of domestic abuse.
A government television campaign has targeted abusive boyfriends amid fears girls are becoming victims in their teenage years and are unable to break the pattern throughout their lives.
The new definition would also cover women who bully their male partners.
A government-agreed definition of domestic violence already exists. This describes it as ‘any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality’.
But ministers fear the police, councils and government agencies are not applying this rigorously enough and will consult on whether there should be a new legal definition and how it should be phrased.
The proposals could, however, raise concerns that the law is being widened to criminalise non-violent behaviour unfairly.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone will launch the proposals on Wednesday.
Earlier this year three police forces began trialling Domestic Violence Prevention Orders, which allow the courts to prevent suspected abusers returning home to their wives or girlfriends for 28 days.
Domestic violence is thought to account for one in five of all crimes of violence committed every year.
Separately, ministers are considering a new law allowing women to find out if their boyfriend has a history of violence.
It would allow the police to tell women who ask whether their prospective partner is a danger to them or their children.