You can download this Explainer as a PDF here.

On 29 April 2021, the Domestic Abuse Act became law. Most of the law only applies in England and Wales. There are a few parts which refer to devolved matters in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

What is the Domestic Abuse Act?

The new Domestic Abuse Act aims to provide further protections to the millions of people who experience domestic abuse, as well as strengthen measures to tackle perpetrators (abusers).

Why has the Domestic Abuse Act been introduced?

Domestic Abuse is a serious and widespread issue across the UK. According to the Office for National Statistics around 2.4 million people experience domestic abuse each year (two-thirds of whom are women) and more than one in ten of all offences recorded by the police are domestic abuse related.

For many years campaigners and advocates have been calling for increased protections for people who experience domestic abuse. In the 2019 general election, the Conservative Party manifesto said that if they won the election, they would “support all victims of domestic abuse and pass the Domestic Abuse Bill”. A Bill is a draft law that is discussed in parliament; once it is passed by Parliament it is called an Act. This commitment was made in 2019, following the loss of progress of a previous Domestic Abuse Bill when the Prime Minister prorogued (shut down) Parliament in August 2019.

What does the new Domestic Abuse Act include?

The Domestic Abuse Act includes several measures which aim to better protect and support people who experience domestic abuse. These include:

  • a definition written in the law of domestic abuse. This says that domestic abuse is not just physical violence, but can also be emotional, coercive or controlling, and economic abuse;
  • a new offence of non-fatal strangulation and courts should reject the claim of “rough sex gone wrong” in cases involving death or serious injury;
  • perpetrators (abusers) will no longer be allowed to cross-examine their victims in civil and family courts to prevent intimidation;
  • clearly writing in law that victims of domestic abuse are eligible for special measures in the criminal, civil and family courts (for example, to enable them to give evidence via a video link);
  • establishing in law the role of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, to stand up for victims and survivors, raise public awareness, monitor the response of local authorities, the justice system and other statutory agencies and hold them to account in tackling domestic abuse;
  • placing a duty on local authorities in England to provide support to victims of domestic abuse and their children in refuges and other safe accommodation;
  • making sure that all eligible homeless victims of domestic abuse automatically have ‘priority need’ for homelessness assistance and that when local authorities rehouse victims of domestic abuse, they do not lose a secure lifetime or assured tenancy;
  • writing the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (“Clare’s law”) into law. This means the police can tell a person at risk of domestic abuse (or someone who has already experienced) about their partner’s or ex-partner’s previous abusive or violent offending;
  • stopping GPs and other health professionals from charging a victim of domestic abuse for a letter to support an application for legal aid;
  • writing into law the case law that says a person may not consent to the infliction of serious harm and, by extension, is unable to consent to their own death;
  • giving police new powers including Domestic Abuse Protection Notices providing immediate protection from abusers;
  • giving courts new powers to hand out new Domestic Abuse Protection Orders to help prevent offending by forcing perpetrators to take steps to change their behaviour, including seeking mental health support or drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

What is missing from the Domestic Abuse Act?

A key issue raised by advocates and campaigners is that migrant women are not fully protected by this law. Changes were suggested to this Bill when it was being discussed in parliament, but the votes meant it was not included in the final law. You can find out more about the Step Up Migrant women campaign, which campaigned for these amendments here.

What about the Human Rights Act?

Lots of the measures introduced by the Domestic Abuse Act aim to better protect the human rights of people who have experienced/ are survivors of domestic abuse or violence. In the UK, we have the Human Rights Act which is already part of our law. The Human Rights Act is about everyone’s rights in the UK, regardless of the person’s immigration status. You can read more about the Human Rights Act and how it works here.

The Human Rights Act is important as it means that public authorities, such as the police, social work services, the NHS and local authorities have a legal duty to protect, respect and fulfil your human rights across all their decisions and actions. So many of our human rights are all vital to supporting people who are experiencing or have experienced domestic abuse including:             

You can find out more about how human rights can be used to support survivors of domestic abuse rebuild their lives in our new tool that we created for and with women survivors: https://www.knowyourhumanrights-domesticabusesurvivors.co.uk/  

What happens now?

The Domestic Abuse Act got Royal Assent on 29 April. This means that it now the law. According to the UK Home Office, the law “will begin to be implemented across criminal justice systems and agencies later this year.”

Where can I find more information?