The long-awaited Domestic Abuse Bill received Royal Assent on April 29, 2021, and became law. Some of the areas covered by the bill have been in desperate need of change for a long time and this bill has been long awaited by family law practitioners, domestic abuse campaigners and charities, the police and domestic abuse survivors.
The Domestic Abuse Bill includes a legal definition of domestic abuse. Domestic abuse is a widespread problem in England and Wales, but before this bill was enacted there was not a statutory definition of domestic abuse. Practitioners and professionals working with families have been using a definition outlined by the Government. The definition within the new bill is wide-ranging and includes emotional, psychological, economic and controlling or coercive behaviour as well as physical and sexual abuse. It also makes clear that this behaviour can be a single incident or a course of conduct.
One of the main areas for which family lawyers have been demanding change for a long time is the protection of domestic abuse victims within the court arena and the measures enabling them to engage within court proceedings safely. This bill prevents alleged perpetrators of domestic abuse from directly cross examining their victim. The Family Court has made efforts to avoid this scenario for a number of years now, to protect victims and to encourage their engagement with proceedings. It is extremely important that this has now become law.
The Domestic Abuse Bill also ensures that victims have better access to special measures in court, such as having protective screens, and to enable victims to give evidence via video link. It is right that alleged perpetrators are able to challenge evidence in court allowing them a fair trial, however it may seem unbelievable that it has taken until 2021 for the law to prevent them from directly questioning their alleged victim in the Family Courts. These measures have long been in place within the Criminal Courts and they will come as a relief to those working with victims in the Family Courts.
The bill also gives powers to the courts to make Domestic Abuse Protection Orders against an individual. These orders are to protect victims and to prevent further offending by ordering perpetrators to engage with services to change their behaviours. It will be interesting to see how the courts use such orders and the effectiveness of the same. By forcing offenders to take steps to change their behaviours it is hoped that the cycle of abuse will be broken.
Interestingly, when the new domestic abuse offence of coercive and controlling behaviour was introduced in 2015 it did not include abuse that occurred after separation. This will come as a shock to many, especially those who have suffered such abuse. Abusers often attempt to maintain control after victims have fled the abuse and, indeed, many will try to reconcile with the victim. The new bill extends the offence of controlling and coercive behaviour to cover post-separation abuse and will no doubt be extremely welcomed by victims and the police, allowing them to take action against ongoing behaviours.
The Domestic Abuse Bill introduces a number of new offences which strengthen the law in this area and provide further protection for victims. It is an overdue and extremely necessary piece of legislation.
At Bastian Lloyd Morris, we are committed to assisting victims of domestic abuse and we have a specialist department dedicated to emergency and protective orders.
For more information about Bastian Lloyd Morris, visit www.blmsolicitors.co.uk or call 01908 546580