On April 29th 2021, the Domestic Abuse Bill passed both Houses of Parliament and was signed into law becoming the Domestic Abuse Act. The Act is now law and will begin to be implemented across criminal justice systems and agencies later this year. The majority of the provisions in the Act apply to England and Wales, or England, only.
Domestic Abuse Act: What you need to know
The Domestic Abuse Act requires a new statutory definition of Dometic Abuse
Changes to the statutory definition of domestic abuse will allow for wider recognition of crimes, victim/survivors and perpetrators of domestic abuse. It will achieve this through:
- Emphasising non-physical forms of abuse, including economic abuse which will be specifically included to demonstrate that it is a distinct type of abuse.
- Recognising children as victim/survivors in their own right within the definition for the first time, rather than witnesses.
Changes to Law resulting from the Act
New laws, and the expansion of existing laws, will be enacted to cover more forms of abusive behaviour and provide more legal basis for criminal action against perpetrators. These include:
- Post-separation abuse is to become a criminal offence.
- Non-fatal strangulation is to become a criminal offence.
- Revenge porn – the law been extended to include threats to share intimate images.
- Rough Sex Defence – the use of this defence has been banned by restating in statute law that a person may not consent to the infliction of serious harm and, by extension, are unable to consent to their own death.
More duty has been placed on statutory agencies including Central Government, Local Authorities, Police, healthcare and the Criminal Justice System.
- Establishment of the Office of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner – The office of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner will publish reports and lay them before Parliament; the reports will ensure statutory agencies and national government are held to account and will make recommendations on how they can improve their response to domestic abuse. Public bodies will have the responsibility of cooperating with the commissioner.
- Introduce a statutory duty on the Secretary of State to publish a domestic abuse perpetrator strategy – This will be published as part of a holistic domestic abuse strategy seeking and will increase emphasis on the importance of working with offenders to reduce the risk of serious harm and repeat offences.
The duties placed on local authorities relate to housing provision for survivors of domestic abuse. They include:
- A duty to provide safe accommodation for all survivors of domestic abuse.
- Ensure that fleeing abuse does not result in the loss of right to lifetime or assured tenancies when these were in place.
- Ensure homeless people identified as survivors of domestic abuse are given priority.
Criminal Justice System:
The Domestic Abuse Act creates a statutory presumption that survivors of domestic abuse are eligible for special measures in the criminal, civil and family court. These measures may reduce the risk of survivors being under coercion or experiencing additional trauma in court proceedings. They include:
- A ban on survivors being cross-examined by their perpetrator.
- Access to special measures as deemed appropriate. These may include being examined in private, giving evidence over video link or behind a screen or entrancing proceeding via a separate entrance.
Additional duties on policing centre around perpetrator management and reducing the risk of repeat offences. These include:
- The Act introduced Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Orders (DVPN/Os) which will place temporary and long-term restrictions on access to survivors. It will also be trailed in some area that DVPN/Os will require perpetrators to take steps to change their behaviour.
- Polygraph testing will be available to help ensure restrictions put on convicted perpetrators leaving custody, or those under DVPN/O’s are adhered to.
- A stronger statutory footing was given to the Domestic Abuse Disclosure Scheme placing duty on the police to disclose information to an individual if they may be at risk.
- The act extends the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the criminal courts in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to further violent and sexual offences. This will come into place 2 months from the assent of the Act in June/July 2021.
Finally, GPs and other healthcare professionals will be prohibited from charging a survivor of domestic abuse for a letter to support an application for legal aid.
There is a wide range of proposed amendments and issues surrounding the Domestic Abuse Act. These are just 5 to consider.
- Protection for Migrant Women – A number of amendments were proposed to make support accessible for Migrant women including access to public funds for survivors with migrant status. The amendments put forward were expected to go through but were rejected and this has caused outrage across the sector. This statement from #StepUpMigrantWomen campaigners Southall Black Sisters provides more information.
- Stalking / Perpetrator register – The proposal of a new stalking/perpetrator register that would make perpetrators subject to monitoring and supervision was also rejected. Failing to bring in a register is disappointing and limits the Act’s effectiveness in this area. The Act has committed to strengthening the existing Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) instead. In a statement, the Home Office announced “We have committed to strengthening the MAPPA Statutory Guidance to include sections on domestic abuse and stalking to ensure that all agencies involved take steps to identify domestic abuse perpetrators whose risk requires further management and monitoring.” However, the Act has committed to developing a strategy on domestic abuse perpetrators so actions relating to perpetrator management may be revisited.
- Judicial Training – An amendment proposing mandatory judicial training on domestic abuse, to ensure all judges are better educated around the complexities and behavioural patterns connected with domestic abuse was also rejected. In recent years headlines relating to the minimising of abuse by some judges have been prevalent. At Equation we know the impact educating professionals can be substantial and were disappointed this was not passed. In Nottingham/shire we will continue to work with our statutory funders to ensure effective training provision surrounding domestic abuse in the local area.
- Coercion Defence – The Centre for Women’s Justice who led the campaign for Non-Fatal strangulation to become law also proposed introducing the Coercion defence following the landmark case of Sally Challen. Challen was released from prison in June 2019 after an appeal reduced her sentence for murder down to manslaughter following evidence of longstanding abuse was presented providing new evidence and wider context around coercive control to the case.
While there is still work to be done, the Domestic Abuse Act makes solid strides towards creating a society free from abuse. Without the hard work of many organisations, key elements of the Act may not have been included. We thank them and also would like to acknowledge the hard work of those continuing to work towards better protection for all survivors.
- Women’s Aid
- Action for Children
- Welsh Women’s aid
- Crisis UK
- Centre for Women’s Justice
- StepUpMigrantWomen Coalition
- Southall Black Sisters
- Stay Safe East
- Disability Rights UK
What does the Act mean for you, your work, your practice and survivors? To find out, join us for an online, hour-long introductory briefing (there are 6 dates to choose from) for an overview of the key components of the Act. Read more and book here.