Survivors of domestic abuse will be protected from their attackers when they register to vote, under new Government plans.
The rules will be relaxed to make it far easier for victims of abuse to register anonymously, in a victory for a campaign by charities including Women’s Aid.
Ministers say the move will also prevent people using the electoral rolls to track down victims of stalking, as well as protect some witnesses in criminal court cases.
The current law has been fiercely criticised because anonymity is only granted with a court order, or with the agreement of a senior police officer.
Many survivors of domestic abuse are unable to pass those tests and – if they are too scared to register openly – lose their right to vote.
Mehala Osborne founded the Right to Vote campaign after being forced to flee her home because of an abusive relationship, rebuilding her life in a local safe house.
Welcoming the announcement, she said: “I was denied a vote whilst living in a refuge, and I never realised how much having a vote meant until it was taken away from me.
“I had already been through enough, and to be disempowered even more was so difficult.
“I am so proud to have started the campaign that has led to these proposed changes. Survivors in the future will not be denied their voice and democratic right to vote.”
The welcome was echoed by Polly Neate, the chief executive of Women’s Aid, who said: “The proposed new measures send out a clear message to all survivors of domestic abuse that their voices matter, and their participation in politics matters.”
Under the changes, someone could be granted anonymity with documents including evidence of a person having been convicted of domestic abuse, or “findings of fact” that abuse took place.
Evidence that someone has been granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK as a victim of domestic violence, or granted legal aid on domestic violence grounds, could also be sufficient.
And the number of police officers authorized to grant anonymity could be expanded seven-fold, with social workers added to the list.
Chris Skidmore, the constitution minister, met Mehala last year and said he was “truly inspired by her story”.
“It is clear that the existing system has often let down those affected by domestic abuse,” Mr Skidmore said.
“That is why today we are setting out proposals to reform the anonymous registration scheme in England and Wales to make it more accessible for those escaping domestic abuse.
“We are clear that those who have been constrained by their abusers must have full freedom to express themselves in the democratic process.”
Anyone wishing to comment on the proposals put forward is asked to email the Cabinet Office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The changes will apply in England and Wales only, because Scotland is about to gain responsibility for registration for elections to its Parliament and local councils.Reuse content