What changes have been made by the Domestic Abuse Act 2021?

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According to the ONS, the number of domestic abuse offences recorded by the police has risen in recent years. Furthermore, demand for victim support skyrocketed during the Covid-19 pandemic as people found it more difficult to leave their homes. It is no surprise that the criminal justice system has been heavily criticised for its lack of effectiveness in supporting domestic abuse victims, which prompted the need for legislative reform in this area.

The Domestic Abuse Bill was announced during the Queen’s Speech in June 2017, and after a long period of delay it finally became law on 29 April 2021. Several important changes were made by the Act in its aim to better protect victims of abuse and improve support.

Firstly, a statutory definition of domestic abuse has been introduced for the first time. This definition is welcomed because it is not just limited to physical abuse, as it also emphasises other forms of abuse such as controlling or coercive behaviour, economic abuse and psychological abuse. In addition, children are now recognised as victims of abuse where they see, hear or experience the effects of abuse and are related to either the perpetrator or the person abused.

Another key change is the creation of an independent Domestic Abuse Commissioner, who is tasked with increasing public awareness and making recommendations to public authorities and government ministers, which must be responded to within 56 days. This role provides greater oversight and accountability in regard to the response to domestic abuse.

The Act amends existing offences and introduces new ones. For instance, the offence of coercive or controlling behaviour is extended to cover ex-partners and relatives that do not live together. In addition, a new offence of non-fatal strangulation or suffocation has been created. These changes recognise the wide range of abuse that can occur and should help more victims come forward.

Greater protection is also provided in the courts. Perpetrators of abuse are unable to cross-examine their victims in person during family or civil proceedings and a statutory presumption of victims being eligible for special measures, such as giving evidence in private, has been developed.

Some other changes include the introduction of Domestic Abuse Protection Notices or Domestic Abuse Protection Orders to prevent offenders from being in contact with their victims, placing a legal duty on local authorities to provide accommodation-based support to victims and their children, and a prohibition on health professionals charging for evidence of abuse in support of legal aid applications.

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