A recent Panorama investigation revealed that there was one domestic abuse call every 30 seconds in the first seven weeks of lockdown. This is an astonishing statistic. Covid-19 had a significant impact on victims of domestic abuse, with victims being forced to live in lockdown with their abuser with no perceived route of escape or breathing space.
Many people are surprised when they find out that domestic abuse does not just mean physical abuse. On 29th April 2021 the Domestic Abuse Bill 2021 was passed through Parliament and significantly widened the statutory definition of Domestic Abuse. The definition now includes a range of abuse such as emotional abuse, coercive or controlling behaviour and economic abuse. As part of the definition, children will also be explicitly recognised as victims if they see, hear or otherwise experience the effects of abuse. Abuse is no longer limited to taking place when partners are living together and now includes abuse which may take place when a victim is no longer living with their abuser. It is very often the case that partners separate yet despite this, the abuse continues.
The inclusion of coercive or controlling behaviour in the definition of domestic abuse is a welcome development, given that 71.7% of survivors who responded to a Women’s Aid survey said that their abuser had more control over their life since Covid-19. With these high statistics, the introduction of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 into law is a much needed addition.
So how does the bill aim to provide more protection to victims?
The bill aims to;
- Raise awareness and understanding about the devastating impact of domestic abuse on victims and their families;
- Improve the effectiveness of the justice system in providing protection for victims of domestic abuse and bringing perpetrators to justice;
- Strengthen the support for victims of abuse by statutory agencies.
And how will the bill do this?
Amongst other matters, the bill will;
- Establish in law a Domestic Abuse Commissioner who will be appointed to advocate for survivors. The commissioner will raise public awareness of domestic abuse, monitor the response of local authorities, the justice system and other statutory agencies and hold them to account in tackling domestic abuse;
- Place a duty on Local Authorities to provide accommodation based support to victims of domestic abuse and their children;
- Provide that all eligible homeless victims of domestic abuse automatically have ‘priority need’ for homelessness assistance;
- Create a statutory presumption that victims of domestic abuse are eligible for special measures in the criminal, civil and family courts (for example, to enable them to give evidence via video link);
- Prohibit perpetrators of abuse from cross-examining their victims in person in family and civil courts in England and Wales;
- Enable domestic abuse offenders to be subject to polygraph testing as a condition of their licence following their release from custody;
- Bring the case of R v Brown  into legislation; invalidating any courtroom defence of consent where a victim suffers serious harm or is killed;
- Stop vexatious family proceedings that can further traumatise victims by clarifying the circumstances in which a court may make a barring order under section 91(14) of the Children Act 1989;
- Provide for a new Domestic Abuse Protection Notice and Domestic Abuse Protection Order.
Please check back for our follow up blogs which will explore ‘Barring Orders’ and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders in more detail.
If you need any help or guidance in respect of the issues raised in this blog, please do not hesitate to contact us to discuss your situation in confidence.