Domestic Abuse Act 2021

In January 2019, the government introduced the Domestic Abuse Bill 2017-19 following a consultation on transforming the response to domestic abuse.

The legislation was reintroduced in March 2020 as the Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21, and received royal assent on 29 April 2021.

We welcome the government’s commitment to tackling domestic abuse. 

The act:

The act creates a statutory definition of domestic abuse based on the existing cross-government definition.

‘Abusive behaviour’ is defined in the act as any of the following:

  • physical or sexual abuse
  • violent or threatening behaviour
  • controlling or coercive behaviour
  • economic abuse
  • psychological, emotional or other abuse

For the definition to apply, both parties must be aged 16 or over and ‘personally connected’.

‘Personally connected’ is defined in the act as parties who:

  • are married to each other
  • are civil partners of each other
  • have agreed to marry one another (whether or not the agreement has been terminated)
  • have entered into a civil partnership agreement (whether or not the agreement has been terminated)
  • are or have been in an intimate personal relationship with each other
  • have, or there has been a time when they each have had, a parental relationship in relation to the same child
  • are relatives

Read the government’s statutory definition of domestic abuse factsheet

Under the act, the government must appoint and fund the office of independent Domestic Abuse Commissioner responsible for:

  • representing victims and survivors
  • educating the public about domestic abuse
  • monitoring the response of local authorities, the justice system and other statutory agencies
  • holding statutory bodies to account in tackling domestic abuse

The commissioner would have the power to hold statutory bodies and government to account and recommend how they can improve the response to abuse.

The act places a duty on certain public bodies and government ministers to cooperate with the commissioner and to respond to each recommendation within 56 days.

Read the government’s Domestic Abuse Commissioner factsheet

The act prohibits offenders from cross-examining their victims in person in the family courts.

There would be an automatic ban on cross-examination in person where:

  • one of the parties has been convicted of, given a caution for, or charged with certain offences against the other
  • an on-notice protective injunction is in place between the parties
  • there's ‘other evidence’ of domestic abuse perpetrated by one party against another

The government has said that it will specify the offences and evidence of abuse required for this automatic ban in later regulations.

The act gives the court powers to:

  • prohibit cross-examination in person where likely to either diminish the quality of the witness’s evidence or cause significant distress to the witness
  • appoint a legal representative to carry out cross-examination on behalf of a party who is prohibited from cross-examining the witness in person

The government has said that this court-appointed representative will be funded centrally.

Read the government’s cross-examination in the family courts factsheet

Register as a qualified legal representative on the Domestic Abuse Advocacy Scheme

The act introduces two new civil protection injunctions:

  • a domestic abuse protection notice (DAPN) – for immediate protection following an incident
  • a domestic abuse protection order (DAPO) – flexible, longer-term protection for victims

These new injunctions are based upon the existing domestic violence protection notice (DVPN) and domestic violence protection order (DVPO).


A DAPN could provide that the accused party may not:

  • contact the person for whose protection the notice is given
  • come within a specified distance of any premises in England or Wales in which that person lives
  • evict, exclude, prohibit from entering or require leaving that person from the premises (if they live together)

It could be issued by law enforcement against a party in response to a domestic abuse incident where there are reasonable grounds to believe that:

  • the party has been abusive towards a person aged 16 or over to whom the party is personally connected
  • it's necessary to give the notice to protect that person from domestic abuse, or the risk of domestic abuse, carried out by the party


Under the act, a DAPO could be used to prevent a party from being abusive to another person aged 16 or over to whom they are personally connected by:

  • prohibiting the party from doing things described in the order, and/or
  • requiring the party to do things described in the order

The conditions in a DAPO could be varied over time by the courts and would be able to cover positive and/or negative requirements. For example, a DAPO could:

  • prohibit any form of contact between the parties
  • require the party to be assessed for suitability for a substance misuse programme

Under the act, a DAPO could be applied for in different courts by:

  • victims
  • law enforcement
  • other third parties specified in the legislation

The courts would also be able to make a DAPO during existing court proceedings.

A court can make a DAPO where it’s satisfied that:

  • on the balance of probabilities, the party has been abusive towards a person aged 16 or over to whom the party is personally connected
  • the order is necessary and proportionate to protect that person from domestic abuse, or the risk of domestic abuse, carried out by the party

Read the government’s domestic abuse protection factsheet

The act would create a statutory basis for the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme guidance. This places duties on law enforcement agencies, such as the police.

Under the scheme, an individual or third party can ask law enforcement to check whether a current or former partner has a violent or abusive past.

Law enforcement should consider disclosing the information if records show that the individual may be at risk of domestic abuse.

Law enforcement may also make a disclosure to an individual if they receive information (for example, through a criminal investigation or from a third sector agency) about the violent or abusive behaviour of a person that may impact on the safety of that person’s current or ex-partner.

Any disclosure made by law enforcement must be:

  • reasonable
  • proportionate
  • based on a credible risk of harm

Read the government’s Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme factsheet

The act creates a statutory presumption that victims of domestic abuse are automatically eligible for special measures in the criminal courts on the grounds of fear or distress.

A party would be automatically eligible whenever an allegation is made that the behaviour of the other party falls within the definition of ‘domestic abuse’ set out in the act.

Under special measures, witnesses could give evidence, for example:

  • in private
  • using a live video link
  • from behind a screen

Currently, special measures are only provided in the criminal courts when there is a belief that the quality of the witness’s evidence is likely to be diminished due to their fear or distress about testifying.

Victims will not have to satisfy the fear or distress test to be eligible for special measures.

It will remain a matter for the court to decide which (if any) of the measures would be appropriate.

Read the government’s special measures factsheet

The act requires local authorities to grant a new lifetime tenancy to a tenant or a member of their household when re-housing an existing lifetime social tenant or offering an existing lifetime social tenant a new sole tenancy in their home if it’s satisfied that the:

  • tenant or a member of their household has been a victim of domestic abuse
  • new tenancy is granted in connection with the abuse

The act places a duty on tier one local authorities in England to provide support victims of abuse and their children living in:

  • a refuge
  • specialist safe accommodation
  • dispersed accommodation
  • sanctuary schemes
  • second stage accommodation

Tier one local authorities include county councils, the Greater London Authority, and metropolitan and unitary authorities.

Under the duty, local authorities must provide domestic abuse support. This includes:

  • support for children
  • counselling and therapy
  • housing-related advice and support
  • communicating with other health and social care providers
  • specialist support for victims with complex needs and/or protected characteristics
  • helping victims to recognise the signs of abusive relationships to prevent re-victimisation

Read the government’s secure tenancies factsheet

Read the government’s statutory duties on accommodation-based services factsheet

The act extends the courts’ extra-territorial jurisdiction to prosecute ‘certain violent and sexual offences’ committed outside the UK by either:

  • a UK national
  • a person habitually resident in England and Wales

If a party is not prosecuted in the jurisdiction where the offence took place, a prosecution could take place in the UK if:

  • if the party is physically present in this jurisdiction (following extradition if necessary)
  • there’s enough evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction
  • it’s in the public interest to prosecute

Read the government’s extraterritorial jurisdiction factsheet

Our view

We welcome:

  • the inclusion of ‘economic abuse’ into the statutory definition of domestic abuse
  • the inclusion of children aged 16 and 17
  • measures to prohibit the cross-examination of domestic abuse victims by their perpetrators

However, legislation alone is not enough. Services for victims of domestic abuse must be properly funded.

The current Domestic Abuse Gateway fails to reflect the wider definition of abuse used in the act and does not include ways in which emotional, controlling or coercive abuse can be recognised. This should be rectified.

Any proposals made within new domestic abuse legislation must also be supported by a full programme of education.

Our priorities for the Domestic Abuse Act


We welcome steps to prohibit the cross-examination of victims of domestic abuse by their alleged abusers.

We encourage the government to extend this provision to include examination-in-chief.

Funding for services

We believe that further funding is required for domestic abuse services and other vital public services in order to adequately tackle this issue, particularly given the increase in cases as a result of coronavirus.

Availability of legal advice and support

We encourage the government to make sure that victims of domestic abuse can access legal advice and support.

The legal aid means test is preventing many living in poverty from accessing justice.

Read our research on the impact of legal aid capital and contribution thresholds for victims of domestic violence

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