If you or your children are in immediate danger, please call 999 and ask for the police. You can also call the 24-Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247.
After years of promises, especially by former Prime Minister Theresa May, the Domestic Abuse Bill 2021 received its Royal Assent in April 2021. This could not have come soon enough, as cases of domestic abuse have risen, especially during the Coronavirus lockdowns of the past 16 months. A House of Common’s Insight, illustrates that although there is no official data so far on the impact of lockdown on domestic abuse, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that by mid-May 2020, there was a 12% increase in the number of domestic abuse cases referred to victim support. And between April and June 2020, there was a 65% increase in calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, when compared to the first three months of that year.
Speaking on the new law Home Secretary Priti Patel said:
“Domestic abuse and violence against women and girls are utterly shameful. As Home Secretary, I am determined to work tirelessly to keep vulnerable people safe and bring crime down.
The Domestic Abuse Act is long overdue. This landmark act will transform the support we offer across society. This includes the support Government provides to victims to ensure they have the protection they rightly need, so that perpetrators of these abhorrent crimes are brought to justice.”
The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 (the Act) has brought forth several monumental improvements that will help protect victims and encourage perpetrators to seek help. These include:
- A definition of domestic abuse – it may be hard to believe but up until now, domestic abuse has never been defined in law. The Act corrects this and states that if people are over 16 years and personally connected with each other, abusive behaviour will include sexual and physical abuse, controlling and coercive behaviour, violent and threatening behaviour, psychological and emotional abuse, and economic abuse. Economic abuse is further defined as behaviour that prevents a person from earning money and acquiring and maintaining property and/or stops them from purchasing goods and services.
- Determining that children who see, hear, or are affected by domestic abuse are victims in their own right.
- The laws around controlling and coercive behaviour have been extended to include incidents that occur post-separation.
- Local authorities in England are required to prioritise housing needs for domestic abuse victims and their children. Furthermore, they will be required to ensure victims receive therapy, advocacy, and counselling in safe accommodation.
- The office and position of Domestic Abuse Commissioner are to be established.
- New protection notices are to be put in place. Police will be able to issue a Domestic Abuse Protection Notice which will ensure immediate protection. The Courts will also be permitted to make a Domestic Abuse Protection Order that will allow the Courts to impose any requirements necessary to protect the victim and all relevant children. Therefore, the powers under the Domestic Abuse Protection Notice are wider than the current Non-Molestation Order and Occupation Orders used to protect domestic abuse victims. According to the Government website , the new protection notice and order will be piloted “in a small number of areas across the UK to assess the effectiveness and impact of the new model prior to national roll out.”
- Victims of domestic abuse will no longer be subjected to being cross-examined in the Family Court by the perpetrator. The Act amends the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984 without anyone convicted of, given a caution for, or charged with a domestic abuse offence from cross-examining in person a witness who is the victim or alleged victim of the abuse, and vice versa. Alternatives such as protective screens and video conferencing will also be made available to protect domestic abuse victims. If cross-examination is required and the perpetrator is representing themselves, the Court can appoint a Solicitor to undertake the necessary cross-examination of the victim.
- Non-fatal strangulation has been made a criminal offence under the Act. The act of strangulation is often used to terrify and subdue domestic abuse victims. Furthermore, the laws around ‘revenge porn’ have been extended and perpetrators could face charges where death or injury occurs during ‘rough sex’. The latter move will prevent people from using consensual ‘rough sex’ as a defence when it is highly likely the situation involved abuse.
Most people involved in family law, including Solicitors, Barristers, Judges, and support groups have welcomed the new Act. It comes at a time when the nation is digesting the actions of Wayne Couzens who pleaded guilty to the murder of Sarah Everard. Between Ms Everard’s death in March and the time of writing (11 July 2021), 53 more women in the UK have been violently killed. The time has come for domestic abuse perpetrators to feel the full force of the legal justice system so we can finally begin to change the culture of violence against women.
Further help and support are available from the below organisations.
National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) – 0800 970 20 70
Refuge - 0808 2000 247 (24 hours)
Women’s Aid 0808 200 0247 (24 hours)
ManKind - 01823 334 244
Galop LGBT Domestic Abuse Helpline - 0800 999 5428
To speak to Kim Lehal, our award-winning Family Law Solicitor, please phone 01788 557670.