The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 became law after the House of Lords withdrew their opposition to the Bill following a dispute over how best to monitor stalkers and abusers. The Lords had pressed for legal changes to the Bill to ensure offenders would be automatically monitored via a police database. The government rejected this, arguing that changing the monitoring rules would be more effective. The Lords withdrew their demand on 27.4.21 to enable the Bill to pass before legislative time ran out.
The Act received Royal Assent on 29.4.21, and aims to ‘make provision in relation to domestic abuse’ through a series of measures:
1. Establishing a Domestic Abuse Commissioner to monitor and prevent domestic abuse through research and education, to improve detection offenders and victims (including children), and provide protection and support to victims;
2. Enables the police to serve a domestic abuse protection notice on suspected abusers where there are reasonable grounds to believe abuse has taken place, breach of which becomes an arrestable offence;
3. Enables individuals to apply for a domestic abuse protection order, and allows the court to make such an order of its own motion in family or civil proceedings, as well as following an acquittal in criminal proceedings;
4. Enables courts to grant special measures to assist individuals to give evidence or otherwise participate in family or civil proceedings in which their abuser is involved;
5. A prohibition on cross-examination in person in family or civil proceedings in certain circumstances;
6. Makes further provision about orders under section 91(14) of the Children Act 1989 (where the permission of the court is required before applications can be brought) to prevent abusers from bringing certain applications;
7. Creates an offence of threatening to disclose private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress (Revenge Porn threats);
8. Provides for an offence of strangulation or suffocation;
9. Makes provision about the circumstances in which consent to the infliction of harm is not a defence in proceedings for certain violent offences (the Rough Sex defence);
10. Makes provision about certain violent or sexual offences, and offences involving other abusive behaviour, committed outside the United Kingdom;
The Act only applies to England and Wales, and aims to strengthen rules surrounding controlling or coercive behaviour, it also recognises children as victims of domestic abuse.
The Lords wanted to create a new category of offender to ensure stalkers are managed under multi agency public protection arrangements (Mappa), between police and probation services. This measure had previously been defeated twice by MPs, and was again rejected by the government. Home Office Minister Baroness Williams of Trafford told peers that improving how Mappa operates on the ground was more important, and pledged to widen the binding guidance governing Mappa to ensure stalkers who pose a threat are covered by it.
The amendment was originally tabled by Labour’s Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, who said there was no proper direction on how the Mappa guidance should be used, argued that spending cuts prevented local authorities from using their professional judgment, and that the current system was not working, leavings thousands of women at risk and living in fear. The Lords’ amendment was supported by Liberal Democrat and cross-bench peers.
The Lords had defeated the government four times in an effort to strengthen standards in child contact centres – neutral meeting places for children and parents who are involved in a difficult relationship break-ups. The Lords eventually compromised to ensure the bill passed.