Final Briefing: The Domestic Abuse Act 05/05/21

Over the past few months, we have published fortnightly briefings on the Domestic Abuse Bill to provide survivors of domestic abuse, partner agencies, and individuals supporting Juno’s mission, with parliamentary and sector-wide updates.

The Bill returned to the Commons for consideration of Lord amendments on the 26th April 2021, this was followed by another consideration of Commons amendments in the Lords on the 27th April, and the Bill received Royal Assent on the 29th April officially marking the Bill an Act of Parliament.

If you have any questions, comments or concerns regarding these briefings, please contact [email protected]

See our previous summary of the Bill here.

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021

“Juno Women’s Aid welcomes the Domestic Abuse Act and would like to pay tribute to all the women and men who have campaigned for many years to make this a reality. This legislation is another milestone in the ongoing struggle to tackle domestic violence and abuse.” – Yasmin Rehman, CEO Juno Women’s Aid

We have much to celebrate in the passing of this new Act and we are incredibly proud of the continuing efforts of survivors and their families, campaigners, MPs, specialist women’s organisations, and many others who have all worked tirelessly these past four years to make this legislation a reality. However, we also recognise the gaps that have been left by unsupported amendments. These gaps continue to leave many survivors of abuse unprotected. We will continue to lobby alongside our sister organisations until we achieve the landmark Act we were promised.

Now that the Domestic Abuse Act has received Royal Assent, Juno Women’s Aid and our sister organisations will be working to ensure the provisions it contains are implemented and survivors are supported to access the vital services they need to live lives free from violence and abuse.

Welcomed measures of the Domestic Abuse Act:

  •  Domestic abuse defined in law. For the first time, domestic abuse is legally defined and references emotional abuse, financial and economic abuse, coercive and controlling behaviour and post-separation abuse.
  • An end to the “rough sex” defence, an extension of the “revenge porn” offence, and the creation of a new non-fatal strangulation offence. Statutory footing will also be given to the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (“Clare’s law”).
  • The recognition of children as victims and survivors if they see, hear or experience the effects of abuse. For too long, children have been ignored and their trauma dismissed. We implore the government to ensure specialist services for children and young people are aptly funded.
  • The Domestic Abuse Commissioner. The Act establishes the role of the Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, which includes gathering data on domestic abuse, supporting specialist organisations and acting as an independent voice. Juno welcomes this role and looks forward to working with Nicole in the future.
  • Statutory duty for housing. The Act places a duty on local authorities in England to provide support to survivors and their children in refuges and other safe accommodation. Survivors made homeless as a result of abuse will automatically qualify for “priority need”; survivors with lifetime or assured tenancies will not lose them if they need to move as a result of abuse.
  • Special measures. Perpetrators will not be able to cross-examine survivors in family and civil courts; survivors will also be able to access screens and give evidence via video link. GPs and other health professionals will be prohibited from charging a survivor for a letter to support a legal aid application.
  • Management of perpetrators. The Act requires the government to introduce a national perpetrator strategy, which will include a new Domestic Abuse Protection Notice and Domestic Abuse Protection Order to help prevent reoffending and provide immediate protection for survivors.

Gaps in the Domestic Abuse Act:

  • Support for migrant women. Migrant women with insecure immigration status and women with No Recourse to Public Funds are some of the most vulnerable in our society. By rejecting key amendments that would have helped protect migrant women facing abuse access support, and report abuse to the Police without fear of deportation, perpetrators will continue to use a woman’s immigration status as a source of control. Southall Black Sisters have been awarded funding to run a pilot, “Support For Migrant Victims”, which is estimated to support 500 women a year, for a period of 12-weeks, to access safe accommodation and support. This is simply not enough. The Government did not respond to Jess Phillips’ question, “what happens… when the 501st victim visits?” We will continue to advocate for the rights of all women to be free from abuse and work alongside and support our sister organisations to end this discriminatory practice of refusing public services to women subject to domestic abuse.
  • A register for serial perpetrators. The government voted against a serial domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators register and failed to listen to survivors. Following the death of Sarah Everard, the amendment initially generated large support in the House of Lords but the government failed to bring, what has been described as a “common-sense amendment“, to fruition. We implore the government to reconsider.
  • Support for specialist community services. Part 4 of the Act omits community services from the new duty. On average, Juno takes 11,000 calls on our Helpline, supports 6,000 women and 300 children and young people annually. Currently, we are averaging 500-600 calls a week on the Helpline which equates to approximately 26,000 a year. We work with survivors, partner agencies, pets, friends, professionals, family members and so many other valuable members of our community to provide lifeline services — these should have been made statutory.

Final Consideration of Amendments

Consideration of Commons amendments- 21st April

The House of Lords disagreed with amendment 1, which sought to include carers in the definition of domestic abuse. “We remain firmly of the view that the focus of the Bill should continue to be on domestic abuse as the term is internationally recognised in the Istanbul convention.”

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff tabled a modified and simplified version of the previous amendment 9. Amendment 9B would ensure all child contact centres and organisations check their employees and volunteers for compliance with national standards of safeguarding and domestic abuse prevention.

The elected House also disagreed with amendment 33, which would require the Government to set out a strategy for judicial training on domestic abuse. The House agreed that this amendment  “fundamentally undermines the important constitutional principle of judicial independence.”

The House of Lords did not insist on amendment 37, to which the Commons have also disagreed. Amendment 37 sought to extend provisions for the ‘special householder defence’ to survivors of domestic abuse, where force could be used for self-defence purposes. The Lords remain unpersuaded of its necessity due to it making the disproportionate use of force defence available at any time.

The Lords did not insist on amendments 38 and 83. Amendment 38 sought to create a statutory defence for survivors of domestic abuse who are compelled to commit crimes as they have no alternative. Amendment 83, set out the offences to which this proposed defence would not be available, but it would still mean the defence is available for many criminal offences.

For more information, view the full report here.

Consideration of Lords amendments- 26th April

The Commons recognised that child contact centres need to be subject to regulation and believe it is an issue that should be examined. However, they cannot legislate on anecdotal evidence and as a result, have tabled amendments 9C and 9D, which would require the Secretary of State to publish a report about the extent to which individuals using contact centres are protected from domestic abuse.

The House remains that Lord’s amendments 40B and 40C concerning data firewalls “still pre-empt the outcome of the review recommended by the independent policing inspectorate in response to the super-complaint.” Government amendments 40D to 40J introduce two entirely new clauses. The first clause will place a review of the current data-sharing arrangements on a statutory footing, the second clause provides a statutory code of practice for the processing of domestic abuse data for immigration purposes.

Lords’ amendment 41B, which attempts to separate the issue of leave to remain from the provision of support for migrant women who experience domestic abuse, has been disagreed with by the Government.

Amendments 42D to 42F, regarding how to best strengthen the management of repeat domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators, has also been disagreed with by the Government on the basis it will not deliver the outcome that it seeks to secure. Rather, the Government will “update and strengthen the MAPPA statutory guidance so as to include sections on domestic abuse.”

For more information, view the full report here.

Final consideration of Commons amendments- 27th April

The elected House does not insist on its own amendment 41B, which the Government also disagreed with. This concerned the lifting of the no resource to public funds condition for migrant survivors of domestic abuse until the conclusion of the ‘support for migrant victims’ scheme’.

The Lords also do not insist on its amendments 42D to 42F (see consideration of Lords amendments above). The House does agree with the Commons in their amendments 42G, 42H and 42J in lieu which inserts a new clause that sets out a strategy for the prosecution and management of offenders.

For more information, view full report here.

Agency Responsibilities

MAPPA-responsible authorities and agencies will have a duty to co-operate on the updated guidance regarding the prosecution and management of offenders once it has been updated. The Domestic Abuse Commissioner and the Victims’ Commissioner will also be monitoring the impact of such strengthened guidance and subsequent actions the Government will be taking.

Equation will soon be releasing training dates for those interested in understanding the agency responsibilities required as per the Domestic Abuse Act. Keep an eye out on their website and social media channels.

See our previous summary of agency responsibilities here.

Key resources and commentaries

Anger as ministers reject register for serial domestic abuser and stalkers

Domestic Abuse Bill to become law after stalker register plan defeated

Dropping of stalkers’ register from bill an ‘insult to victims’

Domestic abuse survivors who need a legal defence- here’s why

He was carrying two knives looking for me’: Women cooped up with violent partners during lockdown recount horror

Rachel Riley says government will be to blame for deaths if it fails to create register of domestic abusers

The struggle continues: SBS responds to the Government’s rejection of our amendments to protect migrant women