Why domestic abusers should be barred from sitting in our Senedd

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Gareth Ceidiog Hughes

Domestic abuse is a pernicious crime.

It is difficult to overstate the devastating damage it does to people’s lives.

Yet people with convictions for domestic abuse and violence can still become MPs and sit in the House of Commons. They can still sit in our Senedd as AMs.

This strikes me as a disturbing state of affairs, and is something that needs to change.

While we don’t have the power over what happens in Westminster, we do have the power over elections to our own national parliament.

We need to use this power to bar people with convictions for domestic abuse from sitting in our Senedd.

When I heard that convicted domestic assaulter and former England cricketer Geoffrey Boycott is to receive a knighthood it occurred to me that nothing would legally prevent someone like him from sitting as an AM in the Senedd.

He was convicted of assault in 1998 for beating Margaret Moore, his then-girlfriend. A French court fined him £5,000 and handed down a three-month suspended jail sentence.

When questioned about it, Boycott, who to this day denies doing it responded thusly: “I don’t care a toss about her, love. It was 25 years ago.

“You can take your political nature and do whatever you want with it. You want to talk to me about my knighthood. It’s very nice of you to have me, but I couldn’t give a toss.”

This is an example of how the system often overlooks the plight of victims of domestic abuse.

Words cannot adequately express the contempt that I feel for men like Boycott. It is distain distilled in its purest form. People like him are not fit to have control over our laws.

Message

Domestic violence is endemic in our society, yet it often goes unseen.

Unfortunately, I do not have Wales only stats on this issue. This is a common and deeply annoying problem when writing about Wales.

The data we have from the Crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW) suggests an estimated 7.9 per cent women experienced some form of domestic abuse in the year ending March 2018. That’s 1.3 million women.

According to the same data an estimated 28.9 per cent of women aged between 16 to 59 years have experienced some form of domestic abuse since the age of 16 years. That’s an eye-watering 4.8 million women.

Women who experience domestic abuse are three times more likely to develop a serious mental illness according to research by Birmingham University.

According to the Office of National Statistics two women are killed each week by a current or former partner in England and Wales.

What kind of message does that send out to our society about its determination to tackle domestic violence when people with convictions for it can sit in our legislature?

They need to be barred, and this should involve convictions for coercive control, which is a pattern of intimidation, degradation, isolation and control with the use or threat of physical or sexual violence. It has recently been made illegal in the UK.

There are all sorts of restrictions on who can become AMs. Some are to do with separation of powers and avoiding conflict of interest. For example, judges are not allowed to become members of the Senedd. Nor are members of the police.

You can also be disqualified if you are subject to certain bankruptcy restrictions.

Under the Representation of the People Act 1983 you are disqualified if you have been convicted or reported guilty of a corrupt or illegal electoral practice or of an offence relating to donations.

The Representation of the People Act 1981 disqualifies anyone who been convicted of an offence, and has been sentenced to be imprisoned or detained for more than a year in the UK.

Now this I presume is to keep serious offenders out of positions of power in our legislative chambers.

Does this mean that domestic violence is not a serious crime? I think not.

Punishment for domestic abuse often below the threshold of a year in prison. Domestic abusers do not always go to jail. That does not mean it is right for them to be able sit in our legislature.

There is an opportunity to change the law on this as it stands.

Disinfectant

Legislation on our electoral process is already winding its way through the Senedd. It is called the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill, and one thing it will do is place further restrictions on who can stand for election to the Senedd. For example, it will stop people from sitting as members of the House of Lords and the Senedd at the same time.

I can’t imagine it would be too onerous a task to include an amendment also barring people who have been found guilty of domestic abuse.

Now there isn’t a specific offence of domestic abuse. The term is used to refer to a pattern of behaviour in sentencing guidelines. However, I don’t think this should be a bar to legislating against keeping domestic abusers from becoming AMs. I do not believe it is beyond the wit of our Assembly Members.

I can think of no good argument against banning these sorts of people sitting in our legislative chamber.

To do so would send a clear message about what is unacceptable in our society.

We shouldn’t expect our elected representatives to be perfect. But we should expect a basic moral standard. A conviction for domestic violence falls below this standard in my view, and I believe it would in the eyes of right-thinking members of the public.

There was a time that I would have assumed that someone with a conviction for domestic abuse could not have become an AM anyway; that it would be too toxic. There could be these sorts of people lurking within the dark fetid bowels of the system already for all we know.

We live in a time when comfortable assumptions are blown away by the violent winds of change. Regrettably we already live in a world where a domestic abuser is given a knighthood. That points to something putrid at the core of our system. It’s time to break out the disinfectant.

At the moment the law with regards to who can sit in our legislative chamber treats bankruptcy more seriously than domestic abuse. I find that absurd. What does that say about our priorities?

I am not aware of any country in the world that has the sort of legislation that I am proposing. This means Wales could have the opportunity to lead the way; a beacon for others to follow. Let’s take that opportunity.

Domestic violence is about power and control.

Do we really want to give domestic abusers the opportunity to have power and control over our legislative process?

Do we really want to give them power and control over us, to shape our laws and thus our lives?

The door to our legislative chamber needs to be shut in their faces. We need to make our political system air-tight. In Wales we can do better, and we must.

We need to send a message that this is not ok.

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joy bishopHuw DaviesJonathan EdwardsSibrydionmawrRhys David Recent comment authors
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Rhys David
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Rhys David

Convictions in British courts are regarded as spent after a period of time and according to the severity of the offence. Assuming this also applies to overseas convictions of British citizens, the length of time would certainly be considerably shorter than the 21 years since the Boycott conviction. The regarding of convictions as spent is a fundamental principle of British justice and an essential component of rehabilitation. This suggestion should therefore be dismissed out of hand by all those who do not want to proceed down a very dangerous path where all sorts of other actions, behaviours and beliefs could… Read more »

Sibrydionmawr
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Sibrydionmawr

I presume you’re for backpedaling on domestic abuse then? As the article points out, some even less serious offences, i.e. they don’t involve violence or emotional harm towards another human being, already preclude a person from becoming an elected representative. This much more serious offence would in any case remain on file, and would be pertinent in any role requiring an enhanced DBS check, spent or not, for example, and would more than likely disbar someone from working with vulnerable people. It’s about sending out a strong message that domestic abuse is unacceptable in our society, and preventing people convicted… Read more »

joy bishop
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joy bishop

I am appalled at the lack of reference to male domestic abuse in this. The Sennedd estimates that domestic violence will affect 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men in their lives. Although the numbers are about half of those of women victims, the number of male victims is increasing faster than that of women and the level of services available to men is about that of the services available in the 80s to women. This is not the equality I fought for …. a mere nod to the experiences of men in this would have sufficed to… Read more »

Sibrydionmawr
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Sibrydionmawr

Well said Joy. Hard though it is for women in situations of domestic abuse, men, if it were possible, have even less credibility when experiencing domestic abuse. I remember some years ago when the Wales’ domestic abuse helpline was being set, (back in around 2004) I was given some stickers with the helpline number on it, and the person stressing to me that the helpline was for men as well, as the number experiencing domestic abuse was substantial

Jonathan Edwards
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Jonathan Edwards

I have every reason to think hard about domestic abuse. I handled it many many times during my legal practice. I have had personal experience of conflict with individual women (1) in a divorce and (2) in a professional context. And I think I am entitled to the view society has deteriorated into a sex war, women being the campaigners and men on the receiving end. If it started as a campaign for justice it passed that stage a while ago and is now toxic. Public life in Wales has suffered badly. I draw some lines in all this (1)… Read more »

Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

Fair comment there. Where allegations turn into a sentence is definitely a point beyond which an A.M cannot serve. Where the A.M senses, as in a recent criminal case, that he or she is highly likely to lose a case then that member should have the good sense to stand down or be instructed by his/her party that they no longer want him/her in their group. “He said, she said” gossip and rumour mongering should not suffice to snuff out any member’s career. I appreciate that evidence based behaviour is a novelty to a lot of activists in Wales but… Read more »

joy bishop
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joy bishop

Excellent points, well made