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The Domestic Abuse Act 2021

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Following agreement by both the House of Commons and the House of Lords on its text, the Domestic Abuse Bill received Royal Assent on 29th April 2021, meaning that it is now an Act of Parliament and therefore, law.

The aims of the Act were to make provision in relation to domestic abuse; to make provision for and in connection with the establishment of a Domestic Abuse Commissioner; to prohibit cross-examination in person in family proceedings in certain circumstances; to make provision about certain violent or sexual offences, and offences involving other abusive behaviour, committed outside the United Kingdom; and for connected purposes.

A number of significant amendments have been made since it was first introduced in 2019, but some of the key features and changes that are brought about by its enactment are as follows:

The “rough sex” defence has been banned. In the past, the CPS and police have dismissed cases of violence against women as “rough sex”, and decided to drop them, rather than go ahead with prosecution. Section 71 of the Act states that “it is not a defence that the victim consented to the infliction of the serious harm for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification”.

Non-fatal strangulation has been made an offence in its own right. Perpetrators could now get up to five years in jail for intentionally strangling another person, or doing any act which affects another person’s ability to breathe and constitutes battery.

Threats to share intimate images has become illegal. It was already illegal to disclose private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress, under section 33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015. However, the new Domestic Abuse Act amends the existing law, to include ‘threats to disclose’ such images. The UK's Revenge Porn Helpline, which supports many victims of intimate image abuse threats, says the development is a great start and will help stop some lives being ruined by intimate image abuse.

Children who live in a home where domestic abuse takes place are now recognised as victims in their own right. The Act now recognises a child who sees or hears, or experiences the effects of, domestic abuse and is related to the person being abused or the perpetrator as a victim of domestic abuse, rather than just a witness.

The Act goes further to place a duty on local authorities in England to provide support to victims of domestic abuse and their children in refuges and other safe accommodation, as well as increasing the protections available for families affected by domestic abuse, by implementing Domestic Abuse Protection Orders and the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme.

Victim protections have also been extended to young people aged 16 and over. In 2020, the minimum age for a person to be classed as a victim of domestic abuse by a partner was lowered to 16 meaning that all elements of the Act will affect young people above this age, as well as giving all eligible homeless victims of domestic abuse, aged 16 and above, "priority need" for homelessness assistance.

Despite all of these positive changes brought in by The Domestic Abuse Act, it is not without criticism, after amendments for a stalking register and strengthening child contact centres were defeated within parliament and therefore, are not included, suggesting that there may be scope for further development and improvement down the line, to afford even better protections to victims of abuse.

If you or anyone you know is being subjected to domestic abuse, please contact the Domestic Violence and Abuse Department (DVAD) for expert advice as to what protective measures are available, either by clicking on the links, or by telephoning Johnson Astills on 0116 255 4855.