What can be done to help stop domestic abuse during the coronavirus lockdown?
Since “lockdown” and social distancing measures were put in place from 23rd March 2020 there has been a stark increase in reported cases of domestic abuse and in particular calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline have increased significantly.
It is perhaps one of the unpredicted effects of “lockdown” that domestic abuse cases would increase during this time, both in situations where domestic abuse was already present and perhaps also in those where it was not.
What is domestic abuse?
We should be careful not to believe the stereotypes of what we think domestic abuse is. The term “domestic abuse” has seen a significant broadening of its definition over recent years. It is not limited to physical abuse but can include a range of behaviours including coercive control, economic abuse, verbal abuse and other forms of abusive behaviour. It is important to remember that domestic abuse can be perpetrated by anyone, on anyone.
Who can help?
On 29th March 2020 the Government published guidance on the issue during the coronavirus pandemic which sets out various agencies who can help including the police (only in cases of immediate danger) and the Domestic Violence Helpline. It also provides details of many other agencies who can provide help and support.
How can the legal profession help?
Domestic abuse does not always require police intervention but there are measures that we, as lawyers, can use to help a person suffering from domestic abuse.
In certain circumstances a warning letter asking the perpetrator to desist from the abusive behaviour and warning of the next steps that will be taken if the behaviour does not stop. This may not always be appropriate and your legal adviser can help you in deciding whether this action that should be taken.
A Non-Molestation Order is a civil court order that prevents a perpetrator from using or threatening violence and from harassing, intimidating and pestering the victim. It can be widely drafted and therefore can contain provisions to suit your circumstances and can also include a restriction to prevent the perpetrator entering or attending your property.
These Orders have to be applied for through the court. They are dealt with as an emergency and in limited circumstances can be obtained, in the first instance, without notice to the other party. This means that you have the protection of the order before the other party is made aware of the application. Non-Molestation Orders are usually put in place for 6-12 months and if made, are enforced through the police as it is a criminal offence to breach a Non-Molestation Order.
In certain cases, rather than a Non-Molestation Order, a Non-Molestation Undertaking is put in place, which is legally binding promise not to behave in an abusive way. These are termed in the same way as the Order but are enforced through the Civil Courts rather than the police.
An Occupation Order can be put in place to remove an abusive party from a home in which they have a right to reside (through ownership or tenancy) for a period of time until long term provisions are put in place to deal with the occupancy of the property in question. Occupation Orders can provide that the abusive party leave the property and not return for a period of time, and can also include provisions for the perpetrator to continue to pay the mortgage or rent upon that property. They are draconian orders and whether they are made will depend on the circumstances of the case in question.
Domestic abuse is against the law and whatever course of action is appropriate for your circumstances, if you require advice on any issues relating to this please contact our Family Team on 01733 882800 or email [email protected].
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