Domestic Abuse
Domestic Abuse  |  Family law

What is the Domestic Abuse Act 2021?

Posted by
Walker Family Law
Read more

The term “domestic abuse” only began to be commonly used in the context of family law relatively recently. Before that, we all used the term “domestic violence”.

As the name suggests, “domestic violence” essentially referred to acts or threats of violence by one partner against the other. But this was limiting.
Abusive behaviour isn’t just violence; it manifests in various other forms beyond threats or physical harm between partners.

And so the term “domestic abuse” began to be used. But what exactly is domestic abuse?

What is domestic abuse?

Until the passing of the Domestic Abuse Act 2001 there was in fact no statutory definition of domestic abuse.

The Act remedied that omission and, in doing so, made it clear to all just what can constitute domestic abuse.

The definition begins simply. Domestic abuse involves abusive behaviour between two individuals aged 16 or older who are personally connected to each other.

But apart from making clear that the two people must be over 16 and “personally connected” (for example married, in an intimate personal relationship with each other, or relatives), this is not particularly helpful.

The definition therefore goes on to specify what kind of behaviour is “abusive”. It states that behaviour is “abusive” if it consists of any of the following:

(a) physical or sexual abuse;

(b) violent or threatening behaviour;

(c) controlling or coercive behaviour;

(d) economic abuse (see below); or

(e) psychological, emotional or other abuse.

Further, the definition of domestic abuse doesn’t hinge on whether it’s a single incident or a pattern of behaviour.

The definition extends beyond mere violence or threats, as previously indicated. In particular, coercive and controlling behaviour, very often a feature of domestic abuse, is specifically included.

One type of controlling behaviour is economic abuse, which the Act goes on to define as any behaviour that has a substantial adverse effect on a person’s ability to acquire, use or maintain money or other property, or to obtain goods or services. This kind of behaviour is often used by one party to control the other.

And there is one other important point in the definition: behaviour may still be abusive towards the victim even if it is directed at someone other than the victim, for example the victim’s child.

Providing this definition of domestic abuse is one of the most important things that the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 did, but it did a number of other important things as well.

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021

In the words of the Government, the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 set out to: “Raise awareness and understanding about the devastating impact of domestic abuse on victims and their families”, and to: “Further improve the effectiveness of the justice system in providing protection for victims of domestic abuse and bringing perpetrators to justice.”

The Act aimed to achieve its goals through various measures, including providing a statutory definition of domestic abuse, among others.

The first was the establishment of a Domestic Abuse Commissioner, “to provide public leadership on domestic abuse issues and play a key role in overseeing and monitoring the provision of domestic abuse services in England and Wales.”

The current Domestic Abuse Commissioner is Nicole Jacobs. An example of her actions was in the news recently when she warned the Government that domestic abuse services faced a “state of crisis” because of a lack of funding for councils and uncertainty over future resources.

The other measure was the introduction of a new civil Domestic Abuse Protection Notice (‘DAPN’) to provide immediate protection following a domestic abuse incident, and a new civil Domestic Abuse Protection Order (‘DAPO’) to provide longer-term protection for victims.

Police could issue a DAPN, mandating a perpetrator to leave the victim’s home, for instance, for up to 48 hours.

The police will also be able to apply to a court for a DAPO, as could a victim of abuse. The court can independently issue a DAPO during ongoing proceedings, not necessarily related to domestic abuse, at its discretion.

DAPOs can impose both prohibitions and positive requirements on perpetrators of abuse. These could include prohibiting the perpetrator from coming within a specified distance of the victim’s home and/or any other specified premises, such as the victim’s workplace, alongside requiring the perpetrator to attend a behaviour change programme, an alcohol or substance misuse programme or a mental health assessment.

Last year the Government announced that DAPNs and DAPOs would be piloted in Gwent, Greater Manchester, and three London boroughs (Croydon, Bromley and Sutton), with the Metropolitan Police, British Transport Police, and other criminal justice partners.

Getting help

If you’re experiencing domestic abuse, seeking legal help promptly is crucial for your safety and well-being.

For more information about domestic abuse and how we can help, see this page.