The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 received Royal Assent on 29 April 2021. One of the key purposes of passing this law was to strengthen the legal position for victims of domestic abuse. This has included granting enhanced special measures to particular individuals who might need to give evidence or participate in court proceedings. It also created certain offences such as strangulation or suffocation and updated powers available to the police and the court in emergency protection notices and orders for victims of domestic abuse.
Until this law was passed, there was actually no legal statutory definition of what domestic abuse meant.
Under the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, we now have a statutory definition of what “domestic abuse” is. If you are wondering if you might be a victim of domestic abuse, the Act confirms that you are, if:
- The parties involved are both aged 16 or over and are “personally connected” to one another; and
- The behaviour is abusive.
For the behaviour to be “abusive” it can be one or more of the following:
- Physical or sexual abuse;
- Violent or threatening behaviour;
- Controlling or coercive behaviour;
- Economic abuse; and/or
- Psychological, emotional or other abuse
and it is irrelevant whether the behaviour is one single isolated incident or a pattern of incidents.
To be “personally connected” you need to be parties who are or have been married/civil partners or engaged. Alternatively, parties have to be in/or have had an intimate personal relationship with one another, or both have or have had a parental relationship regarding a child. The definition is also met if you are related to one another in some other way.
If you are a victim of domestic abuse or know somebody that is, then you may be wondering how this new law will affect you or someone you care about.
Firstly, this law has changed powers available to the police. Previously police and courts could issue what were known as Domestic Violence Protection Notices and Domestic Violence Protection Orders. There is now a change in the terminology in that these are now known as Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders. This change in terminology recognises that domestic abuse is not limited to physical violence. It can include any of the types of abuse set out in the statutory definition above.
Indeed, under the new law, the police have the power to issue a Domestic Abuse Protection Notice to anyone where a senior police officer has reasonable grounds in believing that person has been abusive to. This is only if that person is over the age of 16 years, and they are personally connected, provided they also have reasonable grounds to believe that the notice is necessary to prevent a victim of domestic abuse from being abused or being at risk of abuse. These notices can order a perpetrator that they must stay away, or move out of the property temporarily and not contact the victim.
The downside of this is that it has a limited duration, lasting only up to 48 hours after this the police can apply for a Domestic Abuse Protection Order. These can last 14 to 28 days if granted.
Again, this is not a lengthy type of Order, it is meant to be an emergency remedy which allows victims time and breathing space to take legal advice from solicitors and apply for any further Orders that might be needed that can last several months to years such as a Non-Molestation and/or Occupation Order.
There Orders can be made without notice to the perpetrator where circumstances allow and should the perpetrator breach the Notice or Order, they can be fined or even imprisoned in serious cases.
From Spring 2022, there will also be greater protection for victims and witnesses in legal proceedings in that in certain circumstances it will be a legal assumption that the quality of that person’s evidence would be diminished due to vulnerability. In addition, if that witness is also a party to the proceedings as well, it will also be a legal assumption that their ability to participate in those proceedings is likely to be affected such that it will not be possible for the parties to cross examine each other in court.
If this is the case, then the court must consider an alternative way to cross examine the witnesses or of obtaining the evidence. This could mean a party being required to write any questions they wish to be asked as part of cross examination of a witness to the judge for the judge to put those questions to that party, or even the court appointing a qualified legal representative to do so on behalf of the perpetrator.
In addition, many victims of domestic abuse often find themselves involved in Children Act Proceedings. On occasion this can mean one party subjecting the other party to a constant stream of Family Court proceedings. It is possible already for courts to make an Order under section 91(14) to prevent parties from having an automatic right to make continuous applications. The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 now goes further than this, and states that if it would put not only a child at risk of abuse or another relevant individual, then these types of Orders can be made.
Another useful provision of this Act is that medical professionals can no longer charge for providing medical evidence relating to domestic abuse as a result of this Act.
Therefore, under the new Act, once all provisions are in force, it raises the status and seriousness of domestic abuse in the eyes of the law, which previously many victims have felt was not taken seriously enough as well as providing additional protection to such victims involved in court proceedings.
How we can help with domestic abuse
Carla Williams is a Chartered Legal Executive working exclusively in the Family Law Team who has extensive experience of working with victims of domestic abuse at all levels.
Should you wish to discuss any of these issues further, please contact a member of the Family Team at Bromleys on 0161 330 6821 for a free initial telephone consultation. Alternatively you can fill in our online form or you can email us at Newfamilyenquiries@bromleys.co.uk and we will call you back.