New Criminal Offences introduced by the Domestic Abuse Bill
April 29, 2021
In 2018 the Government conducted a public consultation on ‘Transforming the Response to Domestic Abuse.’ This led to the draft Domestic Abuse Bill (‘The Bill’) and the proposed introduction of both legislative and non-legislative measures. The Bill subsequently fell with the dissolution of Parliament. In March 2020 The Bill was reintroduced; it has now passed its third reading in the House of Lords and has been returned to the House of Commons for a review of amendments.
In the year ending March 2020 an estimated 2.3 million adults experienced domestic abuse. It has been widely reported that there has been an increased demand for domestic abuse services during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the National Domestic Abuse Helpline receiving a 65% increase in telephone calls, and a 700% increase in visits to its website between April and June 2020. Whilst statistical evidence will only ever represent a partial picture, it is broadly accepted that due to the hidden and complex nature of domestic abuse, the statistics available are likely to significantly underrepresent the true reality. What is clear, is that the prevalence of domestic abuse remains high throughout England and Wales and has been acutely affected by the current public health crisis.
In March 2021, the Government confirmed that amendments to The Bill would be presented to provide increased protection to victims of domestic abuse. This included the proposed introduction of two new criminal offences.
The proposal to amend s.75 Serious Crime Act 2015 will make it an offence to intentionally strangle another person or do any other act that affects another person’s ability to breathe. Consent will be a defence unless the other person suffers serious harm because of the strangulation, and the perpetrator intended, or was reckless to, the serious harm. The proposed maximum sentence will be five years imprisonment.
The amendment followed concerns that perpetrators of non-fatal strangulation were avoiding appropriate punishment – for example because of the lack of visible injury – and the subsequent difficulty in achieving a prosecution under existing offences, such as Actual Bodily Harm. In addition, research suggests that the use of non-fatal strangulation within the context of domestic abuse is primarily an instrument of control, as opposed to a reflection of the perpetrator’s intention to cause injury or death. It is therefore no longer deemed appropriate to attempt to achieve a prosecution under existing offences, such as Common Assault, which minimises the seriousness of the act, or Attempted Murder, which does not adequately reflect the perpetrator’s intentions. The amendment achieved cross-party support.
Threats to Disclose Intimate Images
The proposal to amend s.33 Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 will make it an offence to threaten to disclose private sexual photographs or films in which another individual appears. This will broaden the scope of the existing legislation in respect of so called ‘revenge porn’, which criminalises the disclosure of private sexual photographs or films without the consent of the individual depicted. It will not be necessary for the prosecution to prove that the photograph or film referred to in the threat exists. The proposed maximum sentence will be two years imprisonment.
In excess of 900 perpetrators have been convicted under the ‘revenge porn’ legislation introduced in 2015. It is estimated that one in fourteen adults has experienced threats of image based abuse. The move to broaden the scope of the existing legislative framework followed concerns that threats to share private sexual photographs were increasingly being used as a vehicle of coercive control within the context of domestic abuse. Specifically, perpetrators employing threats of image based abuse to perpetuate the ‘fear-compliance’ cycle.
Both amendments have gained considerable support. It is clear that The Bill represents a welcome response to the increasingly understood concept of coercive control and how it contributes to the commission of domestic abuse. It is anticipated that the specific criminalisation of the behaviours outlined will provide further recourse to justice for victims and more appropriate punitive measures for perpetrators.
 Lords Amendments DA Bill.pdf
 Thomas, Joshi and Sorenson (2014) “Do You Know What It Feels Like to Drown?”: Strangulation as Coercive Control in Intimate Relationships (upenn.edu)