Non-Fatal Strangulation

The new offence

Section 28 of the Justice (Sexual Offences and Trafficking Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2022 creates a new offence of non-fatal strangulation or asphyxiation. This offence, which is not retrospective, comes into effect from 26 June 2023. It applies where strangulation or asphyxiation does not result in the death of the victim. 

The legislation does not repeal the existing offence of choking with intent to commit an indictable offence under section 21 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 (OAPA).

What is non-fatal strangulation?

The usual meaning of ‘strangulation’ is the obstruction or compression of blood vessels and/or airways by external pressure to the neck impeding normal breathing or circulation of the blood.

Applying any form of pressure to the neck whether gently or with force could obstruct or compress the airways or blood flow. Strangulation does not require a particular level of pressure or force and it does not require any injury.

The common methods of non-fatal strangulation are:

  • Manual - one or two hands held around the neck of another person;
  • Chokehold;
  • Headlock;
  • Ligature - for example, a belt or scarf around the neck;
  • Hanging;
  • Pressure on the neck from foot or knee.

What is asphyxiation?

Asphyxiation occurs when the body doesn’t get enough oxygen. It can lead to loss of consciousness, brain injury and in some cases death.

Section 28 also creates a specific criminal offence for other methods of mechanical asphyxiation where physical force is applied to areas of the body, other than the neck, which could impede normal breathing or circulation of the blood. These methods include:

  • Gagging - putting a hand or object (such as a scarf or pillow) over the mouth and nose;
  • Suffocation - for example putting a plastic bag or pillow over the head or face;
  • Compressing the chest;
  • Drowning;
  • Any force or suppression applied to a person to cause a restriction of breath.

The above lists are not exhaustive and the legislation is drafted widely to include actions of any other sort that could cause a person to be deprived of air or would obstruct the circulation of blood to the brain.

Why was the offence introduced?

This offence was introduced to close a gap in criminal law where perpetrators often evaded punishment in cases where the act of non-fatal strangulation or asphyxiation left no visible injury, making it harder to prosecute under existing offences such as Assault Occasioning Actual Bodily Harm.

In considering this offence, there is no requirement for prosecutors to prove that the perpetrator had an intention to cause an injury or that any injury was caused.

Our prosecutors will consider this offence in every case where there is evidence of non-fatal strangulation or asphyxiation.; i.e. it is applicable in a range of case types and should not be reserved for those involving domestic abuse or sexual assault.

Prosecutors will ensure that the mode of trial selected is appropriate having regard to the seriousness of the offending, giving particular attention to the need to ensure that the court has sufficient sentencing powers in the circumstances of the particular case.

Statutory defence

Section 28(6) of the 2022 Act provides a statutory defence to the specific offence of non-fatal strangulation However this defence is limited and does not apply in specified circumstances.


This offence can be prosecuted in both the Magistrates Court and the Crown Court. A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable:

  • On conviction on indictment in the Crown Court, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years, or a fine, or both.
  • On summary conviction in the Magistrates’ Court to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years, or a fine, or both.

Behaviour occurring outside the UK

Section 28(9) of the Act gives extraterritorial jurisdiction to the courts in Northern Ireland to deal with behaviour occurring outside the UK provided that:

  • the act would constitute the offence if it occurred in Northern Ireland; and
  • the person who does the act is a UK national or habitually resident in NI.

Ancillary orders

The section 28 offence has been added to the list of ‘specified’ offences in Schedule 2 to the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 2008.  This means that prosecutors may consider asking the court to make a Violent Offenders Prevention Order (VOPO) against a defendant following a conviction for this offence.

The offence has also been added to Schedule 5 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and may qualify for a Sexual Offences Prevention Order (SOPO) where the court is satisfied that it is necessary to make a SOPO for the purpose of protecting the public or any particular members of the public from serious sexual harm from the defendant.  An application for a SOPO may be considered where the non-fatal strangulation or asphyxiation takes place during sexual acts.

Further reading