New measures added to Domestic Abuse legislation

Work with offenders on three important new amendments

Women’s campaigners have fought a long and hard campaign to ensure that the Domestic Abuse Bill has the powers it needs to protect victims of domestic abuse. The Bill was first promised by the Government almost four years ago, it started its progress through parliament only to fall because of the pressures of Brexit and the 2019 general election. The Bill was reintroduced to parliament last March and will start its report stage next week. However, it does appear that the co-ordinated campaign has been successful in many ways.

Even at this late stage, the Ministry of Justice announced today that it intended to bring forward three substantial amendments:

  1. The creation of a new offence of non-fatal strangulation to be introduced as part of ground-breaking legislation
  2. Extending the definition of the controlling or coercive behaviour offence to include abuse where perpetrators and victims no longer live together
  3. Widening the ‘Revenge porn’ offence so that it also covers threats to share intimate images

Non-fatal strangulation

The Government intends to make non-fatal strangulation a specific criminal offence, punishable by up to five years in prison. The act typically involves an abuser strangling or intentionally affecting their victim’s breathing in an attempt to control or intimidate them. Today’s announcement follows concerns that perpetrators were avoiding punishment as the practice can often leave no visible injury, making it harder to prosecute under existing offences such as Actual Bodily Harm (ABH). The proposed legislation has been drafted so that it also covers offences committed abroad by a UK national (or a person habitually resident in England and Wales).

Controlling and/or coercive behaviour

The Controlling and Coercive behaviour amendment will widen the scope of the definition of “personally connected” in the CCB offence so that the offence will also apply to former partners and family members who do not live together. This amendment arose from a Home Office review into Coercive and Controlling behaviour whose findings have been published today. Stakeholders and domestic abuse organisations responded to the review, pointing out this legal loophole and the Government has responded, bringing forward an amendment that makes sure that the Bill covers controlling or coercive behaviour by a former intimate partner that takes place post-separation or by a family member who does not reside with the victim. This amendment is designed to make it easier for victims to have continued protection when they leave abusive relationships.

Threats to share intimate images

The Government also announced that it intends to widen the so-called ‘revenge porn’ laws – introduced in 2015 – to include threats to disclose intimate images with the intention to cause distress. More than 900 abusers have been convicted since revenge porn was outlawed under the existing offence of disclosing private sexual photographs and films, without the consent of the individual in the photographs/film, with intent to cause that person distress (at s33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015). Threatening someone to share intimate images – in effect another form of coercive and controlling behaviour – will attract the same existing 2-year maximum prison sentence.

Other measures

The Government is also tabling a number of other amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill which will:

  • provide special measures in civil courts similar to those available in family courts. This could include the use of protective screens in court or the ability to give evidence via video links to support vulnerable courts users.
  • make it easier for victims who may prefer not to report abuse to avoid being cross-examined in person, by widening the list of evidence to prove abuse has occurred to include things such as a letter from a doctor or an employer.
  • clarify the use of ‘barring orders’ in the family courts to prevent abusive ex-partners from repeatedly dragging their victims back to court – which can be used as a form of continuing domestic abuse.
  • require public authorities conducting domestic homicide reviews to send a copy of their completed reports to the Domestic Abuse Commissioner – strengthening the opportunity to learn lessons and prevent future deaths.

The Bill is expected to receive Royal Assent in the Spring and come into force later this year.