The new Domestic Abuse Act came into law in 2021 and has been praised as creating significant new protections for victims of domestic abuse. Among other things, it has created a list of specific new offences, created the role of Domestic Abuse Commissioner (whose job it is to come up with new plans to combat domestic abuse, as well as raising awareness of this important issue), and finally defined, once and for all, what is considered domestic abuse under the law. So what are the changes that have been made, and what more needs to be done now to ensure that victims of domestic abuse are properly looked after by the law?
Economic abuse is now defined as a separate act of domestic abuse. It is defined as “any behaviour that has a substantial adverse effect on [the other person’s] ability to acquire, use or maintain money or other property, or [to] obtain goods or services”. For example, if a partner is controlling the victim’s access to their own money, running up debts in their name, or spending large sums of joint money without their consent, these may now be classified as economic abuse.
Domestic Abuse Commissioner
This role is currently filled by Nicole Jacobs, who has many years of experience working with domestic abuse charities, and whose job it is to be an independent advocate for victims of abuse. Having this dedicated and independent position will shine a light on the problem of domestic abuse and the treatment of its victims. This will hopefully lead to better, fairer outcomes for victims
There is now a guarantee that victims will be entitled to special measures when appearing in court. The testimony of victims of domestic abuse will be seen as weaker if special measures are not granted. These measures include giving evidence from behind a screen or via video link, and separate waiting rooms for both parties. Cross-examination of the victim by the alleged abuser will now be banned, ending what has long been considered one of the most controversial practices in the Family Courts. Victims should now feel more confident about getting the protection they need when taking their partner to Court
A number of new offences have now been introduced. These include:
controlling and coercive behaviour within a family relationship (e.g. isolating victims from others, monitoring their actions, or controlling their day-to-day activities)
disclosure or threat of disclosure of private sexual photographs or videos (e.g. revenge porn)
- non-fatal strangulation (e.g. choking). The “rough sex defence”, e.g. choking during sex that leads to serious injury or worse) will no longer be a defence against an offence of this nature
Although a definition of domestic abuse has now been enshrined in law, this is only of help if guidance is given to legal practitioners and Judges as to how and when it can be used as part of any given case. Many of these cases are often not black and white, as there is a grey area around whether an allegation of abuse constitutes abusive behaviour, and if so to what degree
Further amendments and additions to the Act are in progress: the replacement of Non-Molestation and Occupation Orders with the more streamlined Domestic Abuse Protection Notice and Order. This should make applying for an injunction against an abusive partner contacting you or entering your home more straightforward.
In essence, this new legislation is a meaningful and encouraging move towards resolving the problem of domestic abuse being misunderstood and under-represented by both the public and the Courts.
If you require legal advice regarding an abusive relationship, please do not hesitate to contact a solicitor, who will be able to take you through the changes to the law in more detail and let you know where you stand.