Gareth Ceidiog Hughes argues that there is a moral case for ensuring that someone convicted of domestic abuse could never sit in the Senedd
It is difficult to overstate the devastating damage domestic abuse does to people’s liveset people with convictions for domestic abuse and violence can still become MPs and sit in the House of Commons. And they can still sit in our Senedd as AMs.
While we don’t have power over what happens in Westminster, we do have the power over elections to our own national parliament and we can use this power to bar people with convictions for domestic abuse from sitting in our Senedd.
The system often overlooks the plight of victims of domestic abuse. Domestic violence is endemic in our society, yet it often goes unseen. Unfortunately, there are no Wales only stats on this issue. This is a common and deeply annoying problem when writing about Wales.
The data 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. Which is over 1.3 million women. And 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 and 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?
Legislators in the Senedd could use their power to bar domestic abusers from sitting in the chamber. Domestic abuse now includes 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.
But you can also be disqualified if you are subject to certain bankruptcy restrictions. And under the Representation of the People Act 1983, you are disqualified if you have been convicted or reported guilty of corrupt or illegal electoral practices or of an offence relating to donations.
The Representation of the People Act 1981 disqualifies anyone who has 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.
Punishment for domestic abuse often below the threshold of a year in prison, but domestic abusers do not always go to jail. That does not mean it is right for them to be able to sit in our legislature.
There is an opportunity to change the law as legislation on our electoral process is already winding its way through the Senedd. The Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill will place further restrictions on who can stand for election to the Senedd and will stop people from sitting as members of the House of Lords and the Senedd at the same time.
The bill has recently passed its third stage where it was decided that the institution would be called both Senedd Cymru, and the Welsh Parliament. AMs also approved a disqualification for registered sex offenders being able to sit in the legislature. 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.
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 and I do not believe it is beyond the wit of our Assembly Members to find a way to include this measure.
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. 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 this sort of legislation. 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. We need to think carefully about the people we give power to enact laws that shape our lives.
The Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill has one final stage to pass before it can become law. To not pass an amendment banning domestic abusers from sitting in the legislature would be a missed opportunity.
This article was originally published on Nation.Cymru
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