Domestic Abuse Bill gains Royal Assent

On 29 April 2021, the Domestic Abuse Bill gained Royal Assent and entered into law. Hogan Lovells has been working closely with the charity Hestia and barrister Gordon Nardell QC on the progression of the Bill and will continue to advocate for positive change.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on many aspects of life across the world, and the confinement of successive lockdowns has highlighted the suffering of those living with domestic abuse. In such a context the progression of the Domestic Abuse Bill, which gained Royal Assent on 29 April 2021, has been of particular significance. Over the past eighteen months, Hogan Lovells has worked with Hestia and Gordon Nardell QC of Twenty Essex to propose amendments to the Bill. The Bill entering into law does not tackle all of our points of concern, but there have been some significant successes.

For the first time ever, children will fall under the definition of victims of domestic abuse. Hestia has long been aware of the devastating impact of domestic abuse on children and its consequences in later life, and has been demanding recognition of the many children across the UK living with domestic abuse. The definition is a fundamentally important acknowledgement that children do not just witness abuse, they experience it. By accepting their experience, this will help support services recognise the hundreds of thousands of child victims in the UK.

The Bill also recognises economic abuse and coercive or controlling behaviour, and brings in the new offence of non-fatal strangulation. A Domestic Abuse Commissioner will now be responsible for reporting on the Bill and holding the Government to account, and there are several provisions regarding abusers in the courtroom. These are all welcome measures.

The Bill does not, however, address several of the issues that we believe to be crucial in the fight to support victims of domestic abuse and has some pressing omissions. As further proposals to assist child victims of domestic abuse, Hestia firmly believes that children escaping domestic abuse should not have their vital access to healthcare services or education delayed by moving to a refuge or out of the area in which they live. We have advocated that the places of children fleeing domestic abuse on NHS waiting lists should be maintained and that there should be equivalent priority access to education for these children as for those who are “looked after” by local authorities. Hogan Lovells and Hestia will continue to campaign for these changes.

The Bill provided a momentous opportunity to introduce an employer’s duty to support victims of domestic abuse by recognising abuse and making practical adjustments for victims. This was not included in the Bill, and we are now working with Hestia and EIDA on advice for employers.

Finally, we would seek to improve the NHS response to the disclosure of domestic abuse. The majority of referrals to specialist services are currently made by the police rather than by medical professionals, but a high proportion of domestic abuse victims are likely to require NHS services and this is a key chance to identify abuse.

The Domestic Abuse Bill is in many ways a landmark piece of legislation and we are proud to have worked with Hestia and Gordon Nardell QC over the last eighteen months. There is still more that can and must be done to support victims of domestic abuse and we will continue to press for this.

Key contacts: Yasmin Waljee, Michael O'Donoghue, Rhian Lewis, Susannah Moody, and Katie Dunn

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