The Domestic Abuse Act 2021: What’s new?

In January 2019, the Domestic Abuse Bill was introduced by the government, aimed at amending and reforming existing legislation surrounding domestic abuse in England and Wales.

Victoria Atkins, MP and Minister for Safeguarding, suggested that the legislation,

“will help transform the response to domestic abuse, helping to prevent offending, protect victims and ensure they have the support they need”.

The legislation was reintroduced in March 2020 before receiving royal assent in April 2021.

So, what’s new?

Some key features of the legislation are as follows:

  • It has provided a statutory definition of domestic abuse encompassing emotional, psychological, controlling/coercive behaviour and economic abuse together with actual or threatened physical violence and sexual abuse between “connected” person’s over the age of 16. Connected persons are defined as those who are or have been married/civil partners or those who are engaged, related to, have had or have a current relationship to a same child or have been or are engaged in an intimate relationship.
  • The Act treats any child who sees, hears or experiences domestic abuse by a person with parental responsibility as a victim in their own right.
  • It has created the new offence of non-fatal strangulation or suffocation of another person, as well as extending the 2015 “revenge porn” offence, to cover threats by a person to disclose private material. These are punishable by incarceration for up to 5 and 2 years respectively.
  • The Act provides for new Domestic Abuse Protection Notice’s (DAPN) and Domestic Abuse Protection Order’s (DAPO).
  • DAPN’s – provide immediate protection before an application for a non-molestation order can be made or criminal charges brought. A senior officer can issue a DAPN if he/she has reasonable grounds for believing that a person has been abusive towards a connected person and has reasonable grounds for believing it is necessary to give notice to protect that person from domestic abuse. The issue of a notice triggers a 48 hour time limit by which an application for a DAPO is to be heard by the magistrates court.
  • DAPO’s – If the court are satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that said individual has been abusive towards the other, then the court can make a DAPO subjecting the abuser to such restrictions the court deems necessary in the circumstances. The main difference between a DAPO and a non-molestation order is that an application for a DAPO can be made by the police therefore offering more immediate support and protection to the victim.
  • Perpetrators of domestic abuse are now prohibited from being able to cross-examine their victims in person in civil and family proceedings.
  • Creates a presumption that victims of domestic abuse are to be eligible for the application of special measures in criminal, civil and family courts. Special measures including the use of separate meeting rooms on court dates and opaque screens to protect against visual intimidation etc.

Whilst the new legislation has been welcomed by legal professionals, the impact of the modifications and additions will not be divulged for some time to come. There also remains concerns that the inclusion of this legislation is not in itself enough and further funding for victims to be able to access the appropriate services needs to be considered, to make justice as accessible as possible for those who need it.

If you have a question or would like to talk to a lawyer about anything in this article, please contact a member of the family law team.