The Introduction of the Domestic Abuse (Jersey) Law 2022
Jun 27, 2023 by Faye Walker
Despite its reputation as a safe and low-crime jurisdiction, Jersey is not immune to the insidious effects of domestic abuse. The nature of this crime often makes it difficult to quantify, but it is estimated that domestic abuse accounts for 15% of all recorded crime in Jersey and costs the Island an estimated £25 million each year. This is a significant financial burden, but the human cost is even greater. Domestic abuse can have a devastating impact on victims' physical and mental health.
In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the need to address domestic abuse through legislation. In 2022, the UK passed the landmark Domestic Abuse Act, which aims to raise awareness of domestic abuse, improve the effectiveness of the justice system, provide protection for victims, and strengthen support services. The same year, Jersey passed its own legislation to address domestic abuse, which came into force last week.
Historically, victims of domestic abuse in Jersey had limited legal recourse, as the law only recognised specific offences like assault. However, the Domestic Abuse (Jersey) Law 2022 has broadened the definition of domestic abuse to include a wider range of behaviours, such as controlling, coercive, and threatening behaviour. The law also increases the penalties for domestic abuse, with offences now punishable by up to five years in prison and an unlimited fine. Additionally, the law gives the court new powers to protect victims of abuse, such as the ability to issue Domestic Abuse Protection Orders (DAPOs). DAPOs can prohibit the abuser from contacting the victim, coming near their home, or accessing their social media accounts. The law also includes acts committed outside of Jersey if the offender is usually resident in Jersey.
The Domestic Abuse (Jersey) Law 2022 and the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 both require the police to take domestic abuse seriously and to investigate all reports. These laws apply equally to all relationships, regardless of the sexual orientation of the people involved. They also extend the controlling or coercive behaviour offence to cover post-separation abuse. The laws give the courts new powers to protect survivors, such as the ability to issue DAPOs. Both laws also provide for the support of survivors through funding for domestic abuse charities and support groups.
Although both laws recognise that domestic abuse can include physical or sexual violence, there are some key differences. For example, the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 in England and Wales explicitly states that domestic abuse can also be threatening, controlling, or coercive behaviour, as well as economic, psychological, or emotional abuse. It also specifies that the behaviour does not have to be a single incident, but can be a pattern of conduct.
Similarly, Jersey's new law identifies that "abusive" can mean physical or sexual abuse, as well as violence, threats, and patterns of coercive or controlling behaviour. It defines coercive behaviour as anything that is likely to make one party dependent on or subordinate to the other, including isolating them from friends, family, or other sources of social interaction or support; controlling, regulating, or monitoring their daily activities; or restricting their freedom of action. It also includes harassment and neglect as acts of abuse, which are not explicitly defined in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. However, it does not specifically mention economic abuse, which the UK law defines as "any behaviour that has a substantial adverse effect on B's ability to acquire, use, or maintain money or other property, or obtain goods or services." While economic or financial harm is likely to be covered under the definition of coercive or controlling behaviour, Jersey's new law leaves this open to interpretation. This is a curious omission by the government given the socio-economic make-up of Jersey’s population, and especially since early drafts of the law included financial harm as a form of domestic abuse.
The law of England and Wales has extended the offence of disclosing private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress (known as the “revenge porn” offence) to cover threats to disclose such material. The law also creates a new offence of non-fatal strangulation or suffocation of another person. Additionally, all eligible homeless victims of domestic abuse automatically have priority assistance for accommodation. The law in England and Wales has been further amended today (27/06/2023) to remove the need to show that the sharing of the videos or pictures was intended to cause distress. It also makes it an offence to create and/or share “deep fake” photographs where explicit images or videos have been manipulated to look like someone else.
Although Jersey has not implemented all of the measures put in place by England and Wales, this new law demonstrates a huge step forwards in ensuring that help is available under the law to victims of domestic abuse.
If you are experiencing domestic abuse, there are a number of resources available to help you. You can contact the police, the Women’s Refuge, or get in touch with us should you need legal representation. You can also find more information on the States of Jersey website.