Race Against Time: Ending the 6-month Limit to Report Common Assault Offences in a Domestic Context

By Sia Xinyu


https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/jul/05/limit-assault-domestic-abuse-victims


What is the current “six-month rule”?


Victims of domestic abuse are often constrained by the time limit imposed on them to report their cases. As of now, cases of common assault must be brought within six months of the alleged offence being carried out to be considered in the courts. [1]


This may potentially spell life or death for victims who choose to delay reporting an incident due to the troubles they face leaving their ongoing abusive relationship, emotionally or logistically. [2] Victims could also feel ashamed to talk about their problems due to social stigma, and when they do, the requirements for copious amounts of medical reports could add significantly to the time taken for investigations. [3]


MPs have thus pushed to extend the time limit on common assault in a domestic abuse context, and their proposals have culminated in the recently announced amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. With the new changes, offences of common assault in a domestic context may be brought before the court within six months from the date of it being reported, not the date when it was committed, subject to an overall time limit of two years. [4]


How the amendments may help victims


These changes were raised in the hopes that victims who lack the courage or confidence to make a complaint have more time to bring their case forward to law enforcement agencies. [5] Time is of the essence for victims in abusive relationships, especially those who rely heavily on their partners (eg. financially).


Criticisms of the amendments


However, critics have been sceptical to accept the proposed amendments as a perfect solution, instead electing to call it an “easy headline” for the Government. It is still not clear what the definition of a ‘domestic context’ is, and the same case could be argued for other vulnerable victims who suffer from levels of fear comparable to that of a domestic abuse victim. [6]


Furthermore, the tragic reality of domestic abuse is that most victims fall outside minor levels of common assault offences, instead suffering serious injuries warranting charges of actual bodily harm, grievous bodily harm or even murder. [7] With this level of harm inflicted in real-life cases, it is difficult to confirm that the amendments will have a significant practical effect in the courts. Instead, critics suggest that the focus should be shifted towards strengthening social services and infrastructure to support victims when they report an assault. [8]





References:

[1] Simon Spence QC, ‘Domestic abuse victims need strong support structures, not empty victories’ The Times (London, 13 January 2022)

[2] Eleanor Langford, ‘MPs Call For Six-Month Limit On Domestic Abuse Assault Prosecutions To Be Scrapped’ PoliticsHome (London, 1 July 2021)

[3] Yvette Cooper, ‘End the six-month limit on assault that fails so many domestic abuse victims’ The Guardian (London, 5 July 2021)

[4] Ibid [1]

[5] Simon Spence QC, ‘Extending the time limit for common assault offences in a domestic context’ The Law Society Gazette (London, 12 January 2022)

[6] Ibid [5]

[7] Ibid [1]

[8] Ibid [5]