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Domestic Abuse Bill risks sending disabled people “back to the days of the Victorian asylums”

14 July 2020

Disability Rights UK has written to the Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC, the Lord Chancellor, and Secretary of State for Justice, the Rt Hon Priti Patel MP about its grave concerns about provision for disabled people in the Domestic Abuse Bill.

The ‘carers’ defence’ legitimises coercive control against disabled people, and undermines disabled peoples’ ability to live independent lives.

Fazilet Hadi said: “As things stand, this Bill would allow carers such as partners and family members to take away the autonomy of disabled people, and to abuse them by going against their will. There is clear scope at the moment for abusers to present themselves as wolves in carers’ clothing and force feed or drug disabled people, and then walk free under the terms of this Bill.

“We have fought for decades for the lives of disabled people to have the same parity of self-determination and independence as non-disabled people. This Bill risks sending us back to the days of the Victorian asylums, where the medical model of disability saw millions of people have what was best decided for them – often to their irreparable harm.”

 

Letter to Ministers

Dear Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice,

Unequal Treatment of Disabled People in the Domestic Abuse Bill

Disability Rights UK is extremely concerned about the unequal treatment of disabled people in the Domestic Abuse Bill. The right to live free from domestic abuse should be absolute and apply to all, yet the Bill limits this right in respect of disabled people. We believe any limitation to be wholly unfair and unjust and contrary to our human rights.

The so called “carer’s defence”, which legitimises coercive control against disabled people, devalues our lives and undermines our autonomy, control and choices. The Domestic Abuse Bill should give us the same legal protection from coercive control, as available to others in society. There should be absolutely no defence to exerting coercive control.

At the Committee Stage of the Bill, the government maintained that a “carer’s defence” to coercive control was needed. Examples given to support this assertion were, a carer needing to force medication or a carer needing to imprison someone, in the person’s best interests. The government felt that these instances should not be treated as coercive control.

In our view, the examples given may well be coercive control. Indeed, in the briefing on the Bill, prepared by Stay Safe East, an organisation with many years of supporting disabled women experiencing domestic abuse, it is explained that perpetrators exploit the impairments and circumstances of disabled women, by putting unnecessary and abusive restrictions on their lives.

Disability Rights UK would ask the government to remove the “carer’s defence” from the Domestic Abuse Bill and to make it clear that disabled people enjoy the same absolute legal protection from coercive control, as the rest of the population. Disabled people need to know that we are protected from all forms of domestic abuse and perpetrators need to know that the domestic abuse of disabled people is unlawful.

We would welcome an urgent meeting with you to discuss this issue.

 

Yours Sincerely,

Kamran Mallick,

CEO Disability Rights UK