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New strangulation and suffocation laws take effect

Prosecutors in England and Wales now have powers to charge violent abusers with the specific offences of non-fatal strangulation or non-fatal suffocation, part of legislation associated with the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. The offences have a maximum jail term of five years.

In legal guidance published as the new laws took effect on 7 June, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) asks prosecutors to carefully consider when to use them instead of alternatives such as actual bodily harm, grievous bodily harm and battery.

While victims may often be left with few, if any, physical marks, the CPS says guidelines are clear that does not detract from the offences’ seriousness. “Protecting victims from these ‘hidden harms’ is paramount,” said Kate Brown, the service’s lead for domestic abuse prosecutions, who added prosecutors will be trained to ensure the offences are properly identified.

The CPS is asking prosecutors and investigators to take an “offender-centric” approach which involves police looking closely at the actions of a suspect before, during and after the alleged offence, with prosecutors advising on additional reasonable lines of enquiry, such as digital evidence, CCTV footage and witness statements.

Though welcoming the new legislation, Domestic Abuse Commissioner Nicole Jacobs said a co-ordinated strategy across government is needed so the new crimes can be effectively implemented, perpetrators brought to justice and victims safeguarded.

She mentioned signs for investigators to look out for included bloodshot eyes, bleeding in the ear, jaw pain or a swollen tongue.

With an estimated 20,000 people in the UK strangled each year, commissioner Jacobs argued it and suffocation increases by seven-fold the risk of those being controlled then being killed. Strangulation and suffocation can also cause memory loss, brain damage, stroke, miscarriage or devastating psychological effects.

The CPS advises the new offences of non-fatal strangulation and non-fatal suffocation cannot be applied retrospectively.

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