‘Landmark’ Domestic Abuse Bill receives Royal Assent 

The landmark Domestic Abuse Bill received Royal Assent today (April 29), strengthening measures to tackle perpetrators and giving police new powers to protect victims.

Apr 29, 2021
By Paul Jacques

For the first time in history there will be a wide-ranging legal definition of domestic abuse which incorporates a range of offences beyond physical violence, including emotional, coercive or controlling behaviour, and economic abuse.

New police powers include Domestic Abuse Protection Notices, which will provide victims with immediate protection from abusers, while courts will 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.

Other measures include new protections and support for victims ensuring that abusers will no longer be allowed to directly cross-examine their victims in the family and civil courts, and giving victims better access to special measures in the courtroom to help prevent intimidation – such as protective screens and giving evidence via video link.

Safeguarding Minister Victoria Atkins said the law will “transform the response” to tackling domestic abuse and Home Secretary Priti Patel said it was “long overdue” and will provide protection to millions of people who experience domestic abuse.

In recent weeks, the Government has added new measures to the Bill to further strengthen the law, including creating 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.

National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for domestic abuse, Assistant Commissioner Louisa Rolfe, said: “Supporting victims of this cruel crime and bringing offenders to justice remains a priority for the police and we have improved our response to domestic abuse across the country. Police attend more than one million incidents of domestic abuse each year, yet we know many victims will still not come forward.

“Policing alone cannot solve domestic abuse, and we must work with others in education, probation, health, social care and housing to ensure support is joined up and intervention is effective.

“The Bill provides an opportunity to do this, and we welcome the measures within it, including the new tools available to officers to better support victims and their families.”

The Domestic Abuse Bill was originally published in draft for pre-legislative scrutiny and the Government worked closely with the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and charities to make key changes to the Bill, ensuring the law was “as robust as possible”. It has now passed both Houses of Parliament and been signed into law as the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

Other measures in the Act include:

  • Extending the controlling or coercive behaviour offence to cover post-separation abuse;
  • Explicitly recognising children as victims if they see, hear or experience the effects of  abuse;
  • Establishing in law the office of Domestic Abuse Commissioner and setting out the Commissioner’s functions and powers;
  • Placing a duty on local authorities in England to provide support to victims of domestic abuse and their children in refuges and other safe accommodation;
  • Ensuring that all eligible homeless victims of domestic abuse automatically have ‘priority need’ for homelessness assistance; and
  • Placing the guidance supporting the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (so-called Clare’s law’) on a statutory footing

The Home Secretary said domestic abuse and violence against women and girls “are utterly shameful” and she was “determined to work tirelessly” to keep vulnerable people safe and bring crime down.

Ms Patel said: “The Domestic Abuse Act is long overdue. 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.”

Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland said: “This landmark piece of legislation steps up the response to domestic abuse at every level – giving victims more support than ever before while ensuring perpetrators feel the full force of the law.

“Thanks to the many survivors, charities, parliamentarians and colleagues from across government who have worked tirelessly to make this possible, more vulnerable people and families will be protected from the scourge of domestic abuse.”

The Safeguarding Minister  said she was grateful for the “brave victims and survivors who have inspired this strengthened action and have helped inform this legislation throughout”.

Ms Atkins added: “This law will fundamentally transform our response to tackling domestic abuse by providing much greater protections from all forms of abuse.”

Domestic Abuse Commissioner Nicole Jacobs said it marked an “historic moment for victims and survivors of domestic abuse when change is needed the most”.

She said: “The Act sets out my legal powers which I will use to support all victims across England and Wales by first tackling the ‘postcode lottery’ of services.

“So many campaigners, charities and individuals have worked incredibly hard to make the Bill as robust as possible and there is no doubt that the legislation, which now includes non-fatal strangulation as a standalone offence, is much stronger as a result.

“Legislation won’t transform things overnight and we know there is more to do, so and I will work with partners to advocate for further changes.”

Julia Mulligan – joint victims lead for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners – said: “We are pleased Parliament agreed to amendments which make non-fatal strangulation a specific offence, and which recognise an abuser can exert controlling or coercive behaviour on a victim even if they do not live together.

“Police and crime commissioners (PCCs) also welcome commitments to review the support available to migrant victims and those with insecure immigration status; and we hope the community-based services we commission will in time be given the same status as accommodation-based services.”

Ms Mulligan, the outgoing police, fire and crime commissioner for North Yorkshire, said domestic abuse has always been a priority for PCCs.

“Throughout the pandemic we have worked incredibly hard to support victims of domestic abuse – raising awareness of the services we commission, and reassuring victims that support continues to be available to them,” she said.

“PCCs have already been engaging with the Designate Domestic Abuse Commissioner and we look forward to continuing to work with her to protect victims now that her role has been enshrined in law.

‘But above all, we want to see sustainable funding for support services made available to victims of domestic abuse, through PCCs local commissioning budgets. This would provide sustainability, stability, and enable local victims’ services to build capacity and resilience.”

Farah Nazeer, chief executive of Women’s Aid Federation of England, said: “The Domestic Abuse Bill has been long-awaited, and could not be more needed, following the impact of the pandemic on survivors and our national network of domestic abuse services.

“Thanks to the bravery of survivors in campaigning for change, we now have an Act that will strengthen protection in the family courts, improve housing law in cases of domestic abuse, and require councils to fund support in safe accommodation.

“We continue to urge for the law to address the significant gaps it leaves and protect every survivor, ensuring that all women and children are able to access support regardless of immigration status, and for us to see guaranteed long-term funding for specialist women’s domestic abuse services, including refuge services around the country that are saving lives every day.”

Claire Throssell, MBE, Survivor Ambassador for Women’s Aid said the new Act was a chance to make sure survivors are “safe, protected and loved”.

She added: “The vital changes to the family court are long overdue and everyone accessing them deserves better. It is high time the family courts are safe and supportive, protecting victims and survivors instead of shielding perpetrators.”

Jo Todd, chief executive officer of domestic abuse charity Respect, said they were “delighted” to see a requirement for a strategic approach to domestic abuse perpetrators set into law.

“This is something that we and over a hundred other organisations have been campaigning for a long time,” she said.

“Domestic abuse is not acceptable or inevitable. A comprehensive strategy – spanning early responses, community interventions, quality assured behaviour change programmes and risk management systems, that centre the needs of survivors – will help survivors and their families to find freedom and reduce the numbers of new victims, including children.”

Victims’ Commissioner Dame Vera Baird tweeted that she was “delighted” Ms Jacobs has officially become the Domestic Abuse Commissioner now that the Bill has received Royal Assent and looked forward to working closely with her to “ensure victims and survivors get the help and support they need and deserve”.

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