Old Bailey Solicitors

What are the possible charges and potential sentences for Domestic Abuse?

What is Domestic Abuse?

Section 1 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 defines domestic abuse as abusive behaviour of a person toward another person, when both individuals are aged 16 or over and are personally connected to each other. The Act defines ‘abusive’ as including physical or sexual abuse, violent or threatening behaviour, controlling or coercive behaviour, economic abuse or psychological emotional or any other abuse. It does not matter whether the behaviour consists of a single incident or a course of conduct. It also confirms that ‘personally connected’ refers to a number of types of relationships, including married or engaged couples, civil partners, couples in an intimate relationship and parent and children. Despite stereotypes, domestic abuse is not always physical violence and can take many different forms, as described above. As a result of the different types of abuse, there is no single criminal offence covering domestic abuse, it is instead governed by a number of different offences.

Domestic Abuse Offences

Violent Offences

A number of violent offences are encompassed within the Offences Against the Persons Act 1861 which contains the legislation covering some of the most common domestic abuse offences, including:

  • Common assault
  • Actual Bodily Harm
  • Grievous Bodily Harm

While these are generalised offences which apply to all victims and perpetrators, when they are committed in a domestic violence context, the rationale behind charging and sentencing decisions can differ.

For example, while normal summary offences have a time limit of 6 months from the date of offence for proceedings to be brought by the police to the court, if the common assault is committed in a domestic violence context, this time limit is extended to 2 years.

Furthermore, the domestic abuse context of the offence is also likely to make an impact on the sentence if convicted of the offence. The domestic abuse aspect is likely to be an aggravating factor and is likely to result in a harsher sentence.

Sexual Offences

Furthermore, offences such as rape, sexual assault and assault by penetration which come under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 could be offences committed in a domestic setting.

For instance, marital rape was made illegal in 1992 and is one of the most serious forms of sexual domestic abuse. This applies to both married couples and co-habiting partners.

As a result of the legal definition of rape, a person who does not have a penis cannot commit rape, but a woman can be charged with assisting a perpetrator to rape, or with sexual assault, assault by penetration, or sexual coercion.

Similar to that of violent domestic abuse offences, when these types of sexual offences are committed in a domestic setting, it is likely that the sentence for the offence will be aggravated. This is because it is more likely for someone convicted of a sexual offence to be found to have abused the trust and security that normally exists between people in an intimate or family relationship.

Emotional and Financial Offences

Section 76 Serious Crime Act 2015 created the offence of engaging in controlling and coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship. The offence encompasses both emotional and financial abuse and makes these a crime.

Examples of controlling and coercive behaviour can include:

  • Isolating an individual from their friends and family
  • Depriving them of their basic needs
  • Monitoring their time
  • Economic abuse, including coerced debt, controlling someone’s spending/bank accounts/investments/mortgages/benefit payments.

Controlling and coercive behaviour is likely to have links/and overlap with other offences, such as sexual and violent offences and offences of stalking and harassment.

Stalking and harassment includes unwanted behaviour and attention that is repeated and causes someone distress or alarm. This offence is frequently committed between current or former intimate partners and can often be a way for someone to exert power and control during and/or after a relationship.

Other Types of Domestic Abuse Offences

There are a number of other offences in the UK, which can encompass offences of domestic abuse. These can include, ‘honour-based’ violence – this is a crime or incident committed to protect or defend the professed honours of the family or community. An example of this may be female genital mutilation or forced marriages. These offences can also fall under the umbrella of domestic abuse.

Zoe Corderoy


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We have offices in Brighton, London and Horley and advise clients on all aspects of criminal defence allegations, including sexual offences, violent offences and drug offences.

Sentencing for Domestic Abuse Offences

The same sentencing guidelines are used for offences committed within a domestic setting as for the offence if it was committed outside of a domestic setting. However, the domestic context of the offence is likely to worsen the sentence as it constitutes an aggravating factor. These aggravating factors may include:

Abuse of Trust

An offence committed against someone while the defendant is in a position of trust is likely to be a significant aggravating factor when the defendant is being sentenced for the offence. This is particularly significant when being sentenced for sexual offences, but can also have an impact for financial abuse offences and other domestic abuse offences. An aggravating factor is likely to uplift the sentence and increase the starting point for the offence.

Other Sentences/Outcomes

As well as the sentences, such as custodial sentences, community orders or fines, other ancillary orders may be put in place in the context of domestic abuse offences. These can include:

  • Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPO’s)

Domestic Abuse Protection Notices (DVPN’s) are served by the police on suspected perpetrators of domestic abuse with the aim of providing emergency protection for victims. DVPN’s must be presented to the Magistrates Court for approval within 48 hours of being served. If the Court allows the application, they will then impose a Domestic Abuse Protection Order to be served on the suspected perpetrator.

Although DVPO’s are dealt with by the criminal courts, they are actually civil orders and thus the standard of proof for an order to be made is ‘on the balance of probabilities’ rather than the criminal standard which is ‘beyond reasonable doubt.’ As a result, you do not need to be convicted of an offence for this order to be applied for and the complainant does not need to be supporting the application for one to succeed.

A DVPO can be put in force for between 14 and 28 days and is likely to include restrictions such as not to contact your partner or the relevant family member and not to attend the address at which they are resident. Although this is a civil order, breaching the order is a criminal offence and can result in a fine or a maximum 2-month custodial sentence.

  • Restraining Order

Similar to a DVPO, a restraining order may also be put in place for the purpose of protecting a complainant from harassment or fear of violence. However, these are likely to be put in place for considerably longer than a DVPO and can be indefinite.

While restraining orders are often imposed as part of sentencing, orders can also be put in place on acquittal, where the court considers it necessary, as (like a DVPO) this is a civil rather than criminal order. A breach, however, is a criminal offence, and can carry a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment.

Other similar orders can also be put in place in the context of domestic violence. These can include stalking protection orders and non-molestation orders (although the latter is a Family Court order). Again, these are civil orders, but breaches of them are criminal offences.

If you are being investigated for an allegation of domestic abuse, this can lead to a number of serious consequences, and you should contact a specialist criminal defence solicitor as soon as possible. Contact our specialist team at Old Bailey Solicitors by email or phone.




Zoe Corderoy


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