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Around 2.5 million adults per year experience domestic abuse, collectively costing its victims in England and Wales around £66 billion annually. Two-thirds of these victims are women. One in five children experience domestic abuse whilst growing up. COVID-19 has highlighted the lack of protection and support for victims of domestic abuse, with 85% of domestic abuse agencies having reduced or cancelled one or more services during the pandemic.
The incidence of domestic abuse has increased in the past year. The number of new cases in the Family Courts related to domestic abuse in the final quarter of 2020 was 6% higher than in the same period in 2019. During lockdown, The National Domestic Abuse Helpline reported a rise in call of 66%, and a 300% increase in visits to its website.
In March 2020, the government honoured its 2019 election manifesto commitment to reintroduce the Domestic Abuse Bill in parliament. The original Bill had been subject to numerous delays due to Brexit and two surprise general elections but was given Royal Assent on 29th April 2021 and is therefore now in force. It will be implemented in the criminal justice system in England and Wales later in 2021.
The Act aims to:
Crucially, the Act stipulates a wider statutory definition of domestic abuse than in previous legislation, emphasising that domestic abuse can be financial, emotional or coercive as well as physical. The offence of coercive behaviour has also been extended to cover abuse that occurs post-separation. In addition, the new Act explicitly defines children as victims if they experience the impact of domestic abuse. It further underlines that a person is not able to provide consent to serious harm being inflicted upon them and, by extension, cannot consent to their own death.
The Act places the onus on providing accommodation support to victims of domestic abuse on local authorities, with homeless victims of domestic abuse being prioritised for assistance. The monitoring of local authorities' actions in tackling domestic abuse will fall under the remit of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, who will also be tasked with raising public awareness and standing up for victims of domestic abuse.
Perpetrators of domestic abuse will be prohibited from cross-examining their victims in civil and family courts, and from contacting their victims under a Domestic Abuse Protection Order. Under this Order perpetrators can be forced to seek support to change their behaviour. Those perpetrators released from custody will be subject to polygraph testing as a condition of their licence.
For further information and advice on this issue, and other family law issues, please contact us for a free initial consultation on 01992 306 616 or 0207 956 2740 or email us.Back to Law Articles