Domestic abuse is a devastating yet all too common experience that leaves people with trauma that can last months, years, or even a lifetime.
It is estimated that 2.4 million people (aged 16 to 74) experience domestic abuse every year, and that is only the incidents that are reported. Since the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown, the situation may have only become worse.
Now, a new domestic abuse law called the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 has been introduced to provide more protection for victims. The law has been a few years in the making after campaigners told the government that they need to do more to help people facing domestic abuse.
Most of the new provisions will come into force as soon as preparatory work has been done to implement them (such as new family court processes). The Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders will be tested before being widely implemented in England and Wales.
The new law aims to…
- Promote awareness – by drawing attention to the issue of domestic violence and creating the first ever ‘statutory definition’ of domestic abuse.
- Protect and support victims – by creating a new Domestic Abuse Protection Notice and Order.
- Helping victims involved in the criminal justice process – by putting in place protective measures, such as using video evidence or screens to prevent victims from having to experience further trauma by being cross-examined by their abuser.
- Improve performance – creating a new Domestic Abuse Commissioner to improve the national and local response to domestic abuse.
A new statutory definition of domestic abuse
It is now law that any kind of behaviour can be abusive, including:
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Violent or threatening behaviour
- Controlling or coercive behaviour
- Economic abuse
- Psychological, emotional or other abuse
This confirms that domestic abuse does not have to be physical or ‘violent’ for someone to be able to seek protection.
The law also defines the kinds of personal relationships abusers and their victims have, including:
- Spouses or civil partners
- Former spouses or civil partners
- In an agreement to marry or enter into a civil partnership (whether or not this agreement has been ended)
- An ‘intimate personal relationship’ (even if you are not ‘officially’ a couple)
- People who have or had a parental relationship in relation to the same child
Children can also be victims of domestic abuse in their own right.
Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Orders
The new domestic abuse law introduces two new protective measures. Domestic Abuse Protection Notices (DAPNs), like existing Domestic Violence Protection Notices, will allow the police to provide immediate protection for domestic abuse victims. For example, the police could issue a Notice to get the abuser to leave the victim’s house for up to 48 hours.
Domestic Abuse Protection Orders (DAPOs), like existing Domestic Violence Protection Orders, will allow victims, the police and ‘specified third parties’ to apply to court for protections.
The courts will also be allowed to make DAPOs during proceedings.
DAPOs can prevent an abuser doing certain things, such as going to the victim’s home or workplace. DAPOs can also force abusers to do certain things, such as attend behaviour change programmes or undergo mental health assessments.
Breaching a DAPO will be a criminal offence that could lead to the abuser going to prison for up to five years.
DAPNs and DAPOs will first be tested in a few areas of the UK to see whether they work. If DAPNs and DAPOs work, Domestic Violence Protection Notices and Orders will be withdrawn.
Approach to domestic abuse in civil and family court proceedings
Under the new law, victims will be entitled to special measures during family court proceedings.
Judges will be allowed to make DAPOs during family court proceedings. There will also be arrangements to prevent abusers from cross-examining their victims during the proceedings. Other special measures could include using screens to allow victims to give evidence without having to face their abuser.
Other changes under the new Domestic Abuse Act include:
- Local authorities in England will have a new duty to provide accommodation based support to domestic abuse victims and their children while in refuges and safe accommodation.
- GPs and health professionals will no longer be allowed to charge victims of domestic abuse for providing a letter to support a Legal Aid application.
- New criminal offences, such as:
- An extension of the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour to cover post-separation abuse.
- An extension of ‘revenge porn’ laws to cover threats to expose private photographs or films without consent.
- A new offence of non-fatal strangulation or suffocation.
Do you need help seeking legal protection from domestic abuse?
Our friendly domestic abuse solicitors are here to help if you need legal advice about leaving an abusive partner or seeking protection for you and your children.
We can help you apply for a range of court orders, including urgent and emergency orders. We can also handle a wide range of other legal matters, such as divorce, civil partnership dissolution, financial issues and conveyancing.