A new law to increase prosecutions for domestic violence and eradicate a postcode lottery in the way victims are dealt with by police forces will be brought forward by Theresa May.
The prime minister said it was a key personal priority to transform the way the UK thought about tackling domestic violence, as she called for ideas about how the treatment of victims can be improved and more convictions secured against abusers.
May said a major consultation across government would result in a domestic violence and abuse act, consolidating other relevant legislation and introducing new measures to help victims.
“I believe that the plans I have announced today have the potential to completely transform the way we think about and tackle domestic violence and abuse,” the prime minister said.
“There are thousands of people who are suffering at the hands of abusers, often isolated and unaware of the options and support available to them to end it. Given the central importance of victim evidence to support prosecutions in this area, raising public awareness – as well as consolidating the law – will prove crucial.”
Liz Truss, the justice secretary, announced last week that domestic violence victims will no longer face the threat of being interrogated by their former partners in court. Her department also said it was considering measures to restrict references to the sexual histories of rape complainants when they gave evidence.
Truss claimed the prison population had risen because of an increasing pursuit and punishment of sexual offences, domestic abuse and other violent crimes.
May has always claimed a strong record on tackling domestic violence: as home secretary, she introduced laws criminalising coercive control, domestic violence protection orders and a disclosure scheme allowing people to ask police whether their partner has a history of abuse offences.
However, the Labour party has highlighted rising domestic violence rates since 2009, with an increase in violence against women perpetrated by their acquaintances, violence against women by strangers remaining level, and violence against men continuing to fall. Sarah Champion, the shadow women’s minister, has campaigned against the loss of 17% of specialist refuges for domestic violence victims in England since 2010.
On average, two women in England and Wales are killed by their current or former partner every week. The number of prosecutions relating to violence against women and girls in England and Wales reached a record level in 2015-16, rising by almost 10% to 117,568.
May’s plan to transform the treatment of domestic violence cases in the UK will begin with a consultation lasting 12-18 months, which will seek ideas from charities, victims, providers of services to people suffering domestic abuse and other experts.
The government believes that consolidating the law into one act will help, as there are currently too many different offences and procedures scattered across the statute book.
“This lack of clarity has led to an unacceptable diversity across the country in terms of the degree of effort put in to try and tackle it,” a government spokesman said. “Although the prosecution of, and convictions for, such offences have started to improve in recent years, there is inconsistency in the use and effectiveness of the various law-enforcement measures across the country.”
The work will be overseen by the prime minister but coordinated by the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice.
The announcement of a consultation on domestic violence legislation was welcomed by Diana Barran, chief executive of the SafeLives charity. She said it would be appreciated by “the many victims and survivors who today feel let down by the response they receive”.
Sandra Horley, chief executive of the charity Refuge, said: “Theresa May has been a champion for victims of domestic violence for many years, first as home secretary and now as prime minister. Refuge has been campaigning for better protection for abused women for 45 years; it is heartening to see such commitment from the government to tackling an issue that claims the lives of two women every week in England and Wales, and blights the childhoods of 750,000 children every year.”