House of Lords Reform of Domestic Abuse Bill Continues
By Family Law Paralegal Kelsey Faulkner
The UK has been in lockdown for the majority of the past year –with personal movement limited and people confined to their homes, the stay-at-home orders which were intended to protect the public and prevent widespread infection, left many domestic abuse victims trapped with their perpetrators.
The ever-evolving issue has attracted the attention of UK Parliament. Reform is long overdue in the form of the Domestic Abuse Bill 2021. The bill is currently at the report stage in the House of Lords.
Amendments being made subsequent to the report day stage two on Wednesday the 10th of March include:
- Amendment 52 will provide a defence where a person is compelled to commit a crime because they live in a situation of domestic abuse,
- Further, amendment 50 will clarify the degree of force which is reasonable under self-defence law where the defendant is a survivor of domestic abuse alleged to have used force against their abuser.
There are further proposed changes to take effect as a result of the House of Lords discussion on Monday the 15th of March 2021, these additions include:
Provisions for an offence of non-fatal strangulation - an attempt by abusers to affect their victims breathing, to control and to intimidate. The proposed offence is to carry a maximum sentence of 5 years imprisonment. Campaigners have been calling for the change, arguing that perpetrators are often only charged with common assault, carrying up to six months imprisonment.
Social workers: powers of entry - a magistrate’s court may make an order permitting a registered social worker to enter premises specified in the order by force for the purposes of identifying and supporting victims of domestic abuse. This proposal has been the topic of debate amongst professionals, who have questioned whether such an application would be listed on notice, and whether the proposed change would offer any more protections for victims than measures, such as police welfare checks and adult safeguarding procedures, that are already in place.
Revenge porn was introduced in 2015 however the new reform bill proposes that the offence includes the threat to disclose intimate images with the intention to cause distress, carrying a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment. The emotional and psychological harm that threats of revenge porn is profound, prior to the proposed introduction of the provision, police have been unable to take such action upon such threats.
The transfer of joint tenancies and survivors of domestic abuse which will apply where there are two or more joint tenants under a secure or assured tenancy and the landlord is a local housing authority or a private registered provider of social housing. If one joint tenant has experienced domestic abuse from another joint tenant, then they may apply to the county court for an order that their abuser is removed as a joint tenant. There have been difficulties surrounding victims being able to leave their abusive relationships due to contractual and financial tries that go hand in hand with joint tenancies. Prior, people had to agree to be taken off a tenancy and leave the home - a massive form of control for a perpetrator. Knowing this, a victim may feel they have nowhere to turn, being tied into the tenancy themselves. With the court’s assistance, victims of abuse can take steps to leave a violent relationship and secure their home in their own right.
This, supported by a non-molestation order can offer the safety required to begin the road to recovery.
The aim of the 2021 Domestic Abuse Reform Bill is to keep victims and children more safe throughout the court process and is, on the whole, welcomed by professionals to deliver progressive support and safeguarding.