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New strangulation and suffocation laws will help protect victims

From today, prosecutors will have new powers to charge violent abusers with specific offences of non-fatal strangulation and non-fatal suffocation, as key measures in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 come into force.

The CPS has published new legal guidance to assist lawyers considering criminal charges for these offences. The new legislation sets out the legal definition that a person commits an offence of non-fatal strangulation if they intentionally strangle another person, and non-fatal suffocation where a person does any other act that affects someone’s ability to breathe and constitutes battery.

The CPS guidance provides a non-exhaustive list of how these offences can manifest, with prosecutors being asked to take careful consideration as to when it would be appropriate to use them rather than alternative charges such as Actual Bodily Harm, Grievous Bodily Harm and Battery. The new offences have the sentencing power of maximum five years’ imprisonment.

While victims may often be left with little or no physical marks, the guidance is clear this is not a reason to detract from the seriousness of these offences.

Kate Brown, CPS lead for Domestic Abuse prosecutions said: “Protecting victims from these ‘hidden harms’ is paramount. Sadly, because this type of offending may leave no physical mark the serious nature of it has not always been appreciated.

“We understand the devastating life-long effects domestic abuse can have on victims. The welcomed new legislation will mean prosecutors and investigators have more charging powers to protect victims and their families from all-too-often repeat offending.

“Our prosecutors are determined to see justice done in every possible case, and where there is sufficient evidence and our legal test is met, we won’t hesitate to prosecute.

“We are developing training for prosecutors to ensure the offences are properly identified from the outset.”

Prosecutors are advised to charge non-fatal strangulation or suffocation where there is sufficient evidence, as this will reflect the seriousness of the offending if a suspect is convicted, and further help protect victims and their family from repeat offending.

Prosecutors and investigators are also asked to focus on the behaviour of the defendant by taking what has been described as an ‘offender-centric’ approach.

This involves police looking closely at the actions of the 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.

The legal guidance also sets out when non-fatal strangulation and non-fatal suffocation can occur in rape or serious sexual offences, by clarifying the ‘rough sex’ defence which makes clear victims cannot consent to the infliction of serious harm or death.

In April, the CPS published a public consultation on new domestic abuse legal guidance which rejects claims that there is a ‘typical’ victim of domestic abuse. The guidance sets out how myths and stereotypes can appear in a domestic abuse setting to help prosecutors challenge misconceptions and build the strongest possible case.

Notes to editors

  • The new offences of non-fatal strangulation and non-fatal suffocation come into effect today, 7 June 2022, and are not retrospective
  • We published for public consultation our revised Domestic Abuse Legal Guidance and Policy Statement, which focuses on tackling myths and stereotypes and prosecutors and investigators taking an offender-centric approach. This involves looking at the behaviour of the alleged offender before, during and after the offence. The 12-week consultation began on 4 April 2022 and will end on 26 June 2022
  • Our Domestic Abuse Best Practice framework sets out measures that are in place for victims to support them through the prosecution process, including support from Independent Domestic Violence Advisers and pre-trial court visits. As well as the use of special measures such as giving evidence from behind a screen, or via a remote video link
  • Clarification on the ‘rough sex’ defence received Royal Assent on 29 April 2021 and cannot be applied retrospectively. Our prosecutors will always challenge claims that a victim has ‘consented’ and will bring the most serious charges available.
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