Commissioners endorse non-fatal strangulation amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill

The Victims’ Commissioner and Domestic Abuse Commissioner voice their support for Baroness Newlove’s amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill, which would create an offence of strangulation or asphyxiation.

As the Domestic Abuse Bill returns to the House of Lords on 5 January 2021, there are fresh moves to make non-fatal strangulation a specific criminal offence in England and Wales.

The Conservative peer and former victims’ commissioner, Baroness Newlove, is bringing forward an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill which has cross-party support. It is backed by the Victims’ Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird, and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, as well as a cross-party alliance of peers and campaign groups.

At present, police can only take action under common assault laws but campaigners say it is rarely prosecuted and in many cases it is overlooked because it often leaves little sign of injury on a victim.

Strangulation is the second most common cause of death for women as a result of domestic violence, after stabbing, and is a known indicator for homicide. Attacks on women involving strangulation increased the risk of death seven-fold.

Dame Vera and Ms Jacobs will meet Robert Buckland, the Justice Secretary, on 7 January to discuss potential changes to the law.

The Victims’ Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird, and Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, said:

“We wholeheartedly support this amendment, which seeks to introduce a standalone offence of non-fatal strangulation or asphyxiation. Non-fatal strangulation or asphyxiation is an utterly terrifying experience and can cause significant long-term mental and physical trauma to victims and survivors. It can also be a matter of life and death. Over a quarter of all female homicides are by strangulation and non-fatal strangulation is widely recognised as a risk indicator – victims are seven times more likely to be killed at the hands of their partner if they have previously been non-fatally strangled.

Yet non-fatal strangulation is currently significantly under-charged across the UK and there is no distinct offence. This is a systemic issue and the law as it stands is not fit for purpose. A specific offence with appropriate sanctions would make the harm and dangers of non-fatal strangulation – and the appropriate action by law enforcement – crystal clear.

This proposed amendment would require the police and criminal justice agencies to treat cases with the gravity that they deserve. It is also international best practice. New Zealand, the USA and Australia have all introduced specific offences for non-fatal strangulation.

The law is currently failing victims and survivors and the penalties associated with strangulation do not reflect the significant harm inflicted. We and the wider sector call on the government to back this amendment. If the Domestic Abuse Bill is to make a real difference and save lives, non-fatal strangulation must be made a distinct and serious crime.”