AN MP who sat on the scrutiny committee of a “groundbreaking” domestic abuse bill has welcomed reforms that give victims greater protections, courts greater power and establishes a legal definition of domestic abuse.

Darlington MP Peter Gibson, who sat on the scurrility committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill, says he is proud to have been part of the “ground breaking” cross-party efforts to protect victims of domestic abuse.

The bill introduces a legal definition of domestic abuse for the first time, creates a domestic abuse commissioner, although already appointed, who is responsible for developing prevention and provision strategies, introduces criminal sanctions for breach of Domestic Abuse Protection Orders and places a statutory duty on local authorities to establish boards to plan a strategy for tackling the issue and the local provision of services.

Pilot programmes will also run and empower judges to be ‘investigative’ or ‘inquisitorial’, rather than the existing adversarial approach, whereby they can direct lines of questioning instead of parties presenting sides.

Domestic abuse commissioner Nicole Jacobs, speaking about the new powers said “appalling experiences” are common and victims themselves who have had “horrendous experiences in family courts” are the “single most common” thing that people contact her about.

Practical measure like separate entrances and waiting rooms for victims will also be introduced.

Mr Gibson said: “The real landmark is this has received widespread, cross party support and gives real powers to courts, who can impose real sanctions on people who breach orders.

“This has opened my eyes to the voices of domestic abuse victims, the shocking scale of of the problem and the huge impact of this crime on families and the community.”

Organisations and charities working with victims of domestic abuse, as well as some victims themselves, were consulted throughout the bill's review.

Mr Gibson met with Family Help, home of Darlington's women's refuge. The charity thanked the MP for his contributions to the debates and "giving voice to our concerns", but warns against complacency as there is "more to do".

A spokesperson said: "It is great news that domestic abuse will finally be legally defined.

"Using the wording domestic abuse instead of domestic violence throughout the bill will help victims understand that all types of abuse are considered a crime, this will encourage more people to seek help."

Types of abuse identified in the bill are physical or sexual abuse, violent or threatening behaviour, controlling or coercive behaviour, economic abuse and psychological, emotional or other abuse.

"It's major progress and we are heading in the right direction, though an awful lot of work still needs to be done," the spokesperson said.

"We will have a legally-defined starting block to build on, and build on it we must. This cannot be a bill that goes through Parliament and is then forgotten.

"There are lots of gaps that still require a great deal of work, including the lack of commitment to migrant women. The domestic violence rule to help migrant women needs to be extended to cover all migrant women and those with insecure status, not just those that are in the UK on a spousal visa."

Family Help would also like to see changes in the way domestic abuse services and other voluntary services are commissioned, saying funding needs to be secured and ring-fenced for specialist services, "including the work needed to help children who are often the unseen victims of domestic abuse".