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The Domestic Abuse Act 2021: a new law offering greater protection for victims

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 was granted Royal Assent at the end of April. LGFL Managing Director Rita Gupta explores the new legislation and how it will impact on both victims and perpetrators of domestic abuse in all its myriad forms.

It seems to have taken a while but finally The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 is law. It is an important Act in many ways, helping to define the various types of domestic abuse, from violence to coercive control. On its passage through parliament, it has also grown in its scope thanks to timely amendments and additions.

As a result, The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 can make unsettling reading, lifting the lid on issues including the detrimental impact on children of witnessing domestic abuse. It also covers abuse such as controlling strangulation that we as family lawyers have dealt with, but the general public may not be aware of.

 

What the new Domestic Abuse Bill covers

The Bill runs to some 85 pages, and covers a diverse range of topics:

 

Definition of “domestic abuse”

Including:

  • Coercive control and economic abuse
  • Children as victims of domestic abuse

 

The Domestic Abuse Commissioner

Including:

  • Incidental powers and the Advisory Board
  • Duty of public authorities to co-operate with Commissioner

 

Powers for dealing with domestic abuse

Including:

  • Domestic abuse protection notices
  • Domestic abuse protection orders
  • Electronic monitoring requirements
  • Special measures for witnesses
  • Amendments of the Sentencing Code

 

Local Authority support

Including:

  • Support provided by local authorities for victims of domestic abuse

 

Protection for victims, witnesses, etc, in legal proceedings

Including Special Measures in:

    • Criminal proceedings for offences involving domestic abuse
    • Family proceedings and victims of domestic abuse
    • Civil proceedings and victims of domestic abuse

and

    • Prohibition of cross-examination in person
    • Orders under section 91(14) of the Children Act 1989

 

Offences involving abusive or violent behaviour

Covering controlling or coercive behaviour including:

    • Threats to disclose private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress
    • Strangulation or suffocation
    • Consent to serious harm for sexual gratification not a defence

What is domestic abuse?

According to the Act, abusive behaviour can consist of any of the following:

(a) physical or sexual abuse

(b) violent or threatening behaviour

(c) controlling or coercive behaviour

(d) economic abuse (any behaviour that has a substantial adverse effect on a victim’s ability to acquire, use or maintain money or other property, or obtain goods or services)

(e) psychological, emotional or other abuse

It’s important to note that it doesn’t matter if the abuse is a one-off incident or ongoing events - it is still abuse under the Act.

If you are a victim of any form of domestic abuse, emotional abuse or coercive control, please contact us at LGFL Ltd to arrange an urgent consultation. Or see our pages on:

 

Children and domestic abuse

The Act makes it clear that it still applies if abuse is directed at another person or child, if the primary intent is to abuse a victim. The criteria for the involvement of children is wider than before, namely:

“Any reference in this Act to a victim of domestic abuse includes a reference to a child who

(a) sees or hears, or experiences the effects of, the abuse, and

(b) is related to A or B.”

 

Domestic abuse protection notices and orders

A domestic abuse protection notice can be issued to someone perpetrating domestic abuse by a senior police officer. It prohibits a person “From being abusive towards a person aged 16 or over to whom P is personally connected.”

This notice can prevent the person contacting or coming within a specified distance of their victim. It can also prohibit them from entering certain premises. Once a notice has been given, “An application for a domestic abuse protection … will be heard by a magistrates’ court within 48 hours of the time of giving the notice.”

The domestic abuse protection order is designed to prevent a person being abusive towards another. If that person breaches the order, they can be arrested.

“A person who is subject to a domestic abuse protection order commits an offence if without reasonable excuse the person fails to comply with any requirement imposed by the order.”

A court can also issue an order without a preceding notice. An order may also specify that the person should be monitored electronically (“tagged”).

 

Special measures in court

In the past, one of the major concerns for victims of domestic violence was the terrifying prospect of facing their abuser in court. The new Act enables a court to put in place special measures “For the purpose of assisting a person to give evidence or participate in proceedings”.

The Act also specifically prohibits cross-examination in person, such that in family, civil and criminal proceedings:

“No party to the proceedings who has been convicted of or given a caution for, or is charged with, a specified offence may cross-examine in person a witness who is the victim, or alleged victim, of that offence.”

The same applies to anyone protected by an on-notice protective injunction.

 

Controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship

The Act updates:

  • Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 (offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship).
  • Section 33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 (threats to disclose private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress).
  • Part 5 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 (protection of children and others) adding a new section on Strangulation or suffocation that makes it an offence to intentionally strangle someone or affect their ability to breathe.

 

Domestic abuse against children: beyond the legislation

The NSPCC have long campaigned to have the impact of domestic abuse on children recognised. As the NSPCC website says

“Domestic abuse is any type of controlling, bullying, threatening or violent behaviour between people in a relationship. It can seriously harm children and young people and witnessing domestic abuse is child abuse.”

The charity reminds us that abuse can happen:

  • Inside and outside the home
  • Over the phone, on the internet and on social networking sites
  • In any relationship and can continue even after the relationship has ended

and that

  • Men and women can be abused or abusers

Their website has excellence advice on how to spot the signs of a child witnessing abuse, and how to help them if they talk to you about it.

 

Domestic violence outside the home

The new Act defines those involved in domestic abuse as being “personally connected” but not necessarily living together. Indeed, it allows for victims and perpetrators to have had a previous relationship that has ended, and thus removes the requirement for “domestic abuse” to take place in the family or shared home. For more details on this, see our recent blog on post-separation coercive control.

 

We can and will help

If you are suffering domestic abuse of any kind, now is the time to act. Call us for an initial reduced fee 1 hour consultation to discuss your situation. We can and will help you with any domestic violence, abuse or coercive control situation.

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