The long-awaited Domestic Abuse Act 2021 came into law on 29th April 2021, after it was granted royal assent, and will provide enhanced protection and support to the millions of people who experience domestic abuse and punish offenders.
Below, we have outlined the key aspects of the Act.
How will the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 help victims of domestic abuse?
The new Act provides the following supportive measures and protections to victims:
- It forms a statutory definition of domestic abuse, which emphasises that it is not just actual physical violence, but can also be emotional, coercive/controlling and economic abuse. As part of this, children will be regarded as victims of domestic violence if they see, hear or otherwise suffer the impact of abuse.
- The Act creates a new offence of ‘non-fatal strangulation’, which carries a specific criminal offence punishable by five years’ imprisonment.
- The definition of controlling/coercive behaviour is extended to include post-separation abuse.
- It alters the offence of ‘revenge porn’ to include the intent or threat to release photographs to cause emotional distress.
- Further clarity is provided to the laws of “rough sex gone wrong” claims in cases involving death or serious injury which allows Courts to reject such claims;
- The Act forms a statutory presumption that domestic violence victims are eligible for special measures in the Criminal, Civil and Family Courts (e.g. they can provide evidence via video link).
- It creates the position of Domestic Abuse Commissioner (Nicole Jacobs was named as Government’s designate Domestic Abuse Commissioner back in September 2019). This role entails standing up for victims and survivors of abuse, raising awareness in the general public, making recommendations on what more should be done to better protect victims and bring more offenders to justice.
- Places a duty on local authorities in England to provide support to victims and their children in refuges and other safe accommodation.
- Provides that all eligible homeless abuse victims can have access to support and have ‘priority need’ for homelessness assistance.
- Puts the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, commonly referred to as ‘Clare’s Law’, on a statutory footing for the first time.
- It ensures that secure lifetime or assured tenancy are not lost by victims when they are rehoused by local authorities.
- Prevents vexatious and traumatising Family Court proceedings from taking place by clarifying the conditions in which a Court can make a barring order under section 91(14) of the Children Act 1989.
- The Act puts in place restrictions that restrict GPs and other medical professionals from charging victims for a letter to support an application for legal aid.
How will the Domestic Abuse Act punish offenders?
The new Act brings into law the following punishments and restrictions for perpetrators of domestic abuse:
- Offenders are prevented from cross-examining their victims in person during Family and Civil Court proceedings.
- Invalidates any Courtroom defence from an offender relating to consent where a victim suffers serious harm or, worse, is killed.
- Permits that offenders can be subjected to polygraph testing as a condition of their release from custody.
- Extends the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the Criminal Courts (in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) to additional violent and sexual offences.
- Creates a new Domestic Abuse Protection Notice and Domestic Abuse Protection Order, which stops offenders from contacting their victims and also makes them take positive steps to change their behaviour, e.g. by seeking mental health support or drug and alcohol rehabilitation.
- Introduces a new statutory duty on the Secretary of State to issue a domestic abuse perpetrator strategy (this will be published as part of a holistic domestic abuse strategy).
The introduction of the long-awaited Domestic Abuse Act 2021 will obviously come as a welcome relief to the millions of victims across the country, whose circumstances will most likely have been worsened as a result of the pandemic and the lockdown restrictions.
The Act will enable the Family Courts to provide enhanced protections for victims of abuse and local authorities will be able to fund support in safe accommodation.
How Nelsons can help
At Nelsons, we have a team of specialist domestic violence solicitors in Derby, Leicester and Nottingham who are experienced in protecting victims of domestic abuse and will respond quickly to your enquiry. We can help if you are the victim of domestic violence or you are facing allegations of violence, abuse controlling and coercive behaviour. It is very important that you obtain independent advice on these matters as if findings of violence or abuse are made then they could have long term and far-reaching consequences.
If you need advice on any domestic abuse-related matter or have any other family law-related queries, please contact us and we will be happy to discuss your circumstances in more detail and give you more information about the services that our family law solicitors can provide along with details of our hourly rates and fixed fee services.