PPS welcomes non-fatal strangulation and asphyxiation legislation

Publication date:

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) has welcomed the introduction of legislation making non-fatal strangulation and asphyxiation a specific, standalone criminal offence as part of the Justice (Sexual Offences and Trafficking Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2022. The new offence, which comes into force today (Monday 26 June 2023), means that attackers could face up to 14 years in prison.

PPS Senior Assistant Director and Victims’ Champion Marianne O’Kane said: “Non-fatal strangulation is a terrifying form of violence. It is often used as a means of control and intimidation, commonly used but not limited to domestic abuse cases. It can happen to anyone, though women and girls make up the great majority of victims.  The creation of this new offence underlines the seriousness of this behaviour, assists prosecutors in bringing perpetrators to justice, increases available sentences and offers greater protection to victims. 

“Non-fatal strangulation is often colloquially known as ‘choking’, which does not reflect the gravity of this behaviour - even low pressure applied to a person’s neck for a short time can have dangerous consequences and potentially result in death.

“In domestic abuse cases it is recognised as being a very high-risk factor of escalating violence that can result in loss of life.

“This offending presents complex challenges for police and prosecutors. In about 50% of cases, non-fatal strangulation does not leave physical signs of injury, and the very serious consequences can be delayed. This legislation recognises the features of this type of violence and strengthens the law in this area. A lack of visible injury does not mean we cannot prosecute these offences.  Other evidence including the account of the victim, any witnesses, police body worn camera footage, accounts from police and paramedics and any disclosures made to a victim’s friends and relatives can also be considered when we are building a case.”

Ms O’Kane said the PPS had put significant resources into ensuring prosecutors could implement the new legislation effectively.

“We have worked with our partners in the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and with other stakeholders and experts in this field, in order to prepare for this new legislation,” she said.

“Prosecutors have undertaken comprehensive specialist training, and have been provided with detailed guidance. This has included training sessions hosted by a leading UK forensic physician, which highlighted the clinical features of non-fatal strangulation and its impact on victims.

“This training and guidance will equip prosecutors with the knowledge and skills to identify and prosecute cases of non-fatal strangulation effectively and sensitively.”

Finally, Ms O’Kane made an appeal directly to victims.

“We want to send a clear message to victims that they are not alone. This behaviour is dangerous, and if you suffer it, you are at high risk of even more serious future harm. Please understand how serious this is and do not delay in reporting the offending to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. We are committed to prosecuting those who carry out these dreadful offences and securing a criminal justice outcome for victims where we have the evidence to do so,” she said.

Notes to Editors

You can read more detail about the new offence on the Non-Fatal Strangulation page of our website.

All PPS decisions are taken in line with the Test for Prosecution which can be found on our website.

The new stand-alone offence of Non-Fatal Strangulation was introduced through the Justice (Sexual Offences and Trafficking Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2022.

The penalties for the new offence are:

  • up to 2 years’ imprisonment and/or a fine up to £5000 when prosecuted in the magistrates’ courts, and
  • up to 14 years’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine when prosecuted in the Crown Court.

Strangulation or suffocation can be caused by intentionally doing anything that might affect a person’s ability to breathe, or the flow of blood to their brain. 

All queries on the legislation should be directed to the Department for Justice.

Media queries for the PPS should be referred to the Communications Unit by emailing ppspressoffice@ppsni.gov.uk inside office hours. The out of hours press officer can be contacted on 07920 271 804, 07920 418844 or 07341 800254.