Protection for millions as landmark Domestic Abuse Bill passes – but there’s still a long way to go

On the 29th April 2021 the Domestic Abuse Bill passed both Houses of Parliament and has been signed into law. The Domestic Abuse Bill will offer more support for those experiencing domestic abuse and strengthens rules surrounding controlling and coercive behaviour, revenge porn and the ‘rough sex defence’. It also recognizes children as victims of domestic abuse.  

The passing of this landmark Bill will make a significant difference to the way in which domestic abuse is treated across the UK. According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales year ending March 2020, an estimated 5.5% of adults aged 16 to 74 years (equating to 2.3 million people) experienced domestic abuse in the last year. With a rise in cases over the course of the pandemic, the passing of the Bill couldn’t come soon enough.

The Bill now clearly defines domestic abuse in the eyes of the law – emphasising that abuse does not only present itself in the form of physical violence, but also emotional, psychological and economical.

Topics to be answered in this article

What defines Domestic abuse behaviour?

The DAA 2021 defines “domestic abuse” behavior as abusive if this consists of:-

  • physical or sexual abuse;

  • violent or threatening behaviour;

  • controlling or coercive behaviour;

  • economic abuse;

  • psychological, emotional or other abuse,

All of which can be a single incident or a course of conduct.

Who is considered a victim of abuse?

The definition of a “victim of abuse” extends beyond the person against whom such an act is carried out, and identifies that any child who sees, hears, or experiences the effect of domestic violence, if the child is related to the victim or the perpetrator, is also a victim of the abuse. 

The Courts in considering applications under the Children Act 1989 take such exposure of abuse into consideration, however the extension of the definition of “victim” to include any such child has wide ranges consequences.

What measures are included in the Domestic Abuse Bill?

  1. There will be a wide ranging legal definition of domestic abuse which incorporates a range of abuse beyond physical violence, including: emotional abuse, coercive or controlling behaviour and economic abuse;

  2. An extension to existing intimate images abuse laws to cover threats to disclose intimate images; and

  3. New protections and support for victims, ensuring that abusers will no longer be allowed to directly cross-examine their victims in the family courts. This will include better access to special measures in the courtroom such as protective screens, video links etc.

 The Act further provides the police with the power to issue a Domestic Abuse Protection Order, a scheme which was previously piloted in Wiltshire. This prevents the perpetrator from being abusive to another, aged 16 or over, to whom they are personally connected.  It prevents the person from contacting their victim,  coming within a specified distance of where the victim lives, prohibits the person from evicting or excluding the victim from their premises, prohibits the perpetrator from entering the premises and can require the perpetrator to leave the said premises.  Prior to the Order being made a Notice is served which will prevent the perpetrator from doing any of these acts pending hearing of the application. There is also now a Domestic Abuse Commissioner, whose job it is to improve the methods of prevention of domestic abuse, to support and protect the survivors, and to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators.

The Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs says: “Today marks an historic moment for victims and survivors of domestic abuse when change is needed the most”.

The Passage of the Bill is a truly momentous case of cross-party cooperation – both in the Commons and the Lords – that has been underway for the past two years. Although this is a definite step in the right direction, there is still a long way to go towards eradicating domestic abuse across the UK.

Speaking on the new law Home Secretary Priti Patel said, “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.”

For more information about the Bill click the link here.

Recent cases

Recent case law has further addressed these issues.  The case of Re H-N and others, heard in the Court of Appeal, made clear that allegations of historical abuse are relevant and the Court is not to prematurely dismiss allegations of domestic abuse on the basis they occurred in the past.

The Court further noted the importance of an understanding of the impact of domestic abuse and coercive control as a pattern of behaviour on children and understanding the pattern of behaviour as abusive, rather than individual incidents.

The case of F v M specifically considers coercive and/or controlling behaviour and the importance of understanding the impact of these patterns of behaviour.

How can a solicitor support a domestic abuse case?

If you have been affected by domestic abuse, Goughs are here to support you.

Every case is different and the appropriate remedy will depend very much on your own personal experience, so a Solicitor will advise of all the legal options available to protect you. Taking that first step might be stressful, but Goughs Solicitors’ experience allows them to approach each case in a sensitive manner and to address each client’s particular difficulties.

Goughs can also put you in touch with external agencies or organisations which may be able to provide different elements of support. It’s important that you feel confident that support is available. You don’t need to suffer in silence. Goughs are here to support you. For more information, please click here.

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