Domestic Abuse Act 2021 – What has changed?

The Domestic Abuse Bill 2017-19, introduced in January 2019, was reintroduced in 2021 as the Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 with many important and much-needed changes. The bill received royal assent on 29th April 2021.

With cases of domestic violence and abuse spiking up during the pandemic, the new domestic abuse act is a significant step forward in protecting individuals who are in danger of abuse. Here in this article, we discuss key features of the new act.

Defining Abuse

According to the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, domestic abuse is not only physical or sexual abuse but it could also be emotional, psychological or economic abuse. Even behaviour that is violent, threatening, controlling or coercive is viewed as domestic abuse.

However, for the definition to apply, both parties must be over 16 and personally connected to each other either through marriage, civil partnership, blood relationship or an intimate personal relationship.

Domestic Abuse Commissioner

According to the new act, the government must appoint a Domestic Abuse Commissioner. His role is to represent victims, educate the public about domestic abuse, keep a watch on how local authorities respond to cases of domestic abuse and hold them accountable if they do not take the necessary action.

The act puts an obligation on government ministers and public bodies to cooperate with the commissioner and respond to him within 56 days.


The act introduces two new civil protection injunctions

  1. DAPN – Domestic Abuse Protection Notice

DAPN provides immediate protection to the individual.

For example, it can prevent the accused from contacting the individual or from coming within a specified distance of any premises where the individual is living. If they live together, a notice can be served so that the accused can neither evict the person from the property nor prohibit entry to the property.

  1. DAPO – Domestic Abuse Protection Order

DAPO is a flexible arrangement, providing long-term protection.

A DAPO can mention specific things that the accused cannot do and specific things that he or she must do. The court has the power to change the details of the order after a period of time. For example, if the accused continues to be a threat, the order can be adjusted to prevent any contact between both parties.

Full Disclosure of Abusive Past

Under the new act, an individual or a third party can ask law enforcement agencies, such as the police, to do some background checks on the partner to check if he or she has a history of being violent and abusive. If the agency finds out that there is a risk of domestic abuse, it must disclose information.

Privileges for Victims in the Court

At the family court, the offender is not allowed to cross-examine the victim in person.

Victims are also eligible for special measures in criminal courts on grounds of fear or distress. They are allowed to give a witness even via a video call or from behind a screen.

Under certain conditions, offenders can be subjected to a polygraph test.

Extra-territorial Jurisdiction

Under the new act, if the abuse occurred outside the UK but the accused is a UK National or a person who regularly lives in England and Wales, the court still retains the right to prosecute such an individual. However, this right can be exercised only for certain violent and sexual offences.

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