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The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 received Royal Assent on 29 April 2021. The Act contains a variety of provisions which will come into force throughout 2021.
The Domestic Abuse Act aims to raise awareness and understanding of the devastating impact of domestic abuse on victims and their families; to prevent offending and provide an effective response to perpetrators to end the cycle of abuse; and to protect and enhance the safety of victims and the support they receive.
An outline of the measures in the Act include:
The definition of domestic abuse is put onto a statutory footing and includes the forms of domestic abuse and makes those an offence. Behaviour is "abusive" if it consists of any of the following: physical or sexual abuse; violent or threatening behaviour; controlling or coercive behaviour; economic abuse; psychological and emotional or other abuse. It recognises that domestic abuse is not just physical or sexual violence but can be emotional, coercive or controlling, and includes economic abuse as a specific form of abuse.
It sets out the criteria that victims are over 16 and must have a ‘personal connection’. This acknowledges that teenagers/young people experience domestic abuse in their relationships and recognises other types of relationships such as family members. The controlling and coercive behaviour offence is extended to post-separation abuse, which recognises those who leave abusive ex-partners can be subjected to sustained or increased controlling or coercive behaviour.
Children are recognised as victims in the same way as the adult in which the abuse is directed. Therefore children growing up in a household where there is domestic abuse are as much victims of domestic abuse as the person being directly abused, and have a right to be safe and protected from harm.
The Act creates strengthened protection orders - Domestic Violence Protection Notices (DVPNs) which can allow for protective measures to be put in place for a victim following a domestic incident involving a perpetrator over the age of 18, and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders (DAPOs) can be issued by courts to support the prevention of offending by forcing perpetrators to address their behaviour, including seeking mental health support or problems with drugs and alcohol. The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (“Clare’s Law”) is put onto a statutory footing and enables the police to disclose information to a victim or potential victim of domestic abuse about their partner’s or ex-partner’s previous abusive or violent offending.
The Act prohibits the cross questioning from perpetrators to their victims within family courts. There is also provision of special measures and support within the family court environment itself for victims to help prevent intimidation, such as protective screens and giving evidence via video links, and separate waiting areas.
The Act provides for a duty on local authorities to fund support in domestic abuse safe accommodation/refuge-based services for victims and their children within their area, to have access to advocacy and counselling and support to access NHS services, schooling and welfare benefits. It includes tailored support for victims with a disability or complex needs, LGBTQ and Black and other ethnic groups. There is a further duty to give priority need status to all victims of Domestic Abuse who are homeless.
Specific offences are introduced. ‘Revenge porn’ becomes a specific offence to protect those victims who have been threatened with the sharing of their private intimate images or films with the intention to cause distress (in force 29 June 2021). There is a ban (in force 29 April 2021) on the ‘rough sex’ defence meaning consensual rough sex is not a defence for the victim’s death, and non-fatal strangulation is made a specific criminal offence.
The Act has created the role of Domestic Abuse Commissioner. Nicole Jacobs is designate Domestic Abuse Commissioner, who in her role will have the power to publish reports and lay them before Parliament; these reports will hold local commissioners, statutory agencies and national government to account and make recommendations on how they can improve their response to domestic abuse.
For further information see Domestic Abuse Bill - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)