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Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceedings Act (Northern Ireland) 2021

Section 2: What amounts to abusive behaviour

This section sets out what constitutes abusive behaviour for the purpose of the offence.  The description is non-exhaustive and it therefore remains open to the court to determine in any individual case that the accused’s behaviour was abusive in some other way, beyond the ways described.

Subsection (2) provides that abusive behaviour includes behaviour which is violent or threatening (including both physical and sexual violence).  Subsection (2) also covers behaviour directed at an individual, their child or any other person where the purpose of the behaviour is to have certain effects on the partner/connected person or where a reasonable person would consider it likely to have one or more of the effects.

Subsection (3) sets out, in connection with this latter aspect of the offence, the relevant effects that can indicate that behaviour is abusive.  This is intended to ensure that, for example, psychological abuse, or controlling or coercive behaviour that could not previously have been prosecuted, falls within the definition of abusive behaviour (as well as violent or threatening behaviour) and constitutes a criminal offence.

Subsection (3)(a) deals with behaviour which makes the partner/connected person dependent on or subordinate to the accused.  This could include, for example, preventing the partner/connected person from having access to money, forcing them to leave their job or education, taking charge of household decision-making to the exclusion of them or treating them as a domestic slave.

Subsection (3)(b) covers behaviour which has the effect of isolating a person from friends, family members or other sources of social interaction or support. This could include, for example, controlling a partner’s or connected person’s movements; access to their phone or other forms of communication; not allowing visits from, or to, the partner’s or connected person’s friends or family, or deliberately failing to pass on messages from friends or family.

Subsection (3)(c) refers to behaviour which has the effect of controlling, regulating or monitoring the day-to-day activities of a partner/connected person.  This could include, for example, checking their phone, e-mail or social media use, controlling what clothes they can or cannot wear, or placing unreasonable requirements on them, for example, to prepare meals in a particular way at a particular time every day or to answer the phone within three rings.

Subsection (3)(d) deals with behaviour which has the effect of depriving or restricting the freedom of action of a partner/connected person.  This addresses behaviour which strips that person of their autonomy, for example, preventing them from attending work or college, preventing them from leaving the house alone, insisting on accompanying them to medical appointments for no good reason, or taking decisions for them in relation to private, individual matters that a person would normally decide for themselves.

Subsection (3)(e) refers to behaviour which has the effect of frightening, humiliating, degrading or punishing a partner/connected person.  This could include, for example, abusive name-calling, threats of self-harm, playing ‘mind games’ that cause the partner/connected person to doubt their self-worth, controlling a partner/connected person’s access to the toilet or forcing them to eat food off the floor. It could include various sexually abusive behaviours.

Subsection (4)(a) provides that the reference to violent behaviour includes both physical and sexual violence.  Subsection (4)(b) provides that reference in the section to a child means someone under 18 years of age.

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Text created by the Northern Ireland Assembly department responsible for the subject matter of the Act to explain what the Act sets out to achieve and to make the Act accessible to readers who are not legally qualified. Explanatory Notes accompany all Acts of the Northern Ireland Assembly.


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