Update: Domestic Abuse Bill
Director Helen Greenfield comments on the new Domestic Abuse Bill.
Last week, on 29 April 2021, the Domestic Abuse Bill passed both Houses of Parliament and been signed into law.
Its aim is to provide further protections to the millions of people who experience domestic abuse and strengthen measures to tackle perpetrators.
These issues were brought into stark relief during the last twelve months of the pandemic. Between January and March 2020, before the first lockdowns in the UK, the charity Refuge for example recorded an average of 8,176 calls and messages per month. Between April 2020 and February 2021, it logged a total of more than 131,000 such contacts, an increase of more than 60% on the average number of monthly contacts at the start of 2020. One campaigner described it as an epidemic beneath a pandemic.
In an attempt to tackle such issues, the Bill now sets out a legal definition of domestic abuse for the first time, incorporating a range of abuses beyond physical violence, including emotional, coercive or controlling behaviour, and economic abuse.
It also introduces new protections and support for victims to ensure that abusers will no longer be allowed to directly cross-examine their victims in the family and civil courts, and to try and give victims better access to special measures in the courtroom to help limit intimidation – such as protective screens and being able to give evidence via video link.
Police will also be given new powers including the ability to use Domestic Abuse Protection Notices, which aim to provide victims with immediate protection from abusers. Courts should also now be able to hand out new Domestic Abuse Protection Orders to help prevent offending by forcing perpetrators to take steps to change their behaviour, including seeking mental health support or drug and alcohol rehabilitation.
Measures added more recently include a new offence of non-fatal strangulation, extending an offence to cover the threat to disclose intimate images, and clarifying the law to further clamp down on claims of “rough sex gone wrong” in cases involving death or serious injury.
Also, the controlling or coercive behaviour offence can now include post-separation abuse and the Bill now explicitly recognises children as victims if they see, hear or experience the effects of abuse.
Speaking on the ‘long overdue’ legislation, Home Secretary Priti Patel said:
“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.”
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….. Legislation won’t transform things overnight and we know there is more to do, so I will work with partners to advocate for further changes.”
As Nicole Jacobs alludes to, the Bill is not without criticism, for example, after amendments for a stalking register and strengthening child contact centres were defeated and therefore not included in the Bill.
Only time will tell whether the new Bill will be enough to make the changes so necessary on the ground.
For more information on how Family Law in Partnership can help you if you are faced with domestic abuse, please visit our website page Abuse in Relationships below or contact director Helen Greenfield who focuses on this area of law on T: 020 7420 5000 or by email at email@example.com