There are a number of steps that can be taken, including various applications that can be brought through the family court, to protect someone experiencing domestic abuse.
It’s really important, to look at the client’s needs as a whole, and just because it is possible to make an application for a protective order, might not always mean that it is the right thing to do, as it could have a ‘knock-on’ effect on other family issues, such as arrangements with the children. A specialist family lawyer can therefore look at the situation holistically, and advise on the best course of action.
All professionals involved in the family justice world are cautious about the safety for victims of domestic abuse and the practical difficulties and danger to their personal safety that seeking legal advice could bring. That, alongside the stress of the situation, including financial worries particularly in the current cost of living crisis, undoubtedly puts them in greater danger than normal. Many people might find themselves trapped in a situation due to financial worries.
What legal protection can a victim obtain?
The Court can provide a number of different options to protect a victim of domestic abuse, both through the family courts and criminal courts;
- Non-molestation orders can help prevent the perpetrator’s violence, abuse and harassment;
- Occupation orders can exclude the perpetrator from your home;
- Prohibited steps orders, can prevent the perpetrator from removing the children from your care without your consent;
- The police can also assist with removing the perpetrator from your home;
- They can also give warnings and cautions;
- Protection from harassment orders;
- Domestic violence protection notices;
These are just a few orders that may be appropriate to consider.
Lawyers are able to take instructions over the telephone or in person or via web conferencing, from which they can prepare the necessary paperwork, and this can be sent to clients electronically for their approval.
Before speaking to a lawyer, it might be really helpful if you’re able to, to make some notes about what has been happening, who is involved, and other useful information, such as the names, ages and other key information of any children of the family. It might be helpful to have an idea – if you know it – about any financial issues, including any family assets, debts, income and expenditure. But don’t worry if you don’t know about this, as your lawyer will advise you about what information they need.
Even in domestic abuse cases, there might be other ways of ensuring protection or of resolving your issues, without court proceedings, and a specialist lawyer can help you look at the pros and cons of other ways including mediation, and ways of ensuring they can be dealt with safely and sensibly.
If any application is to be made to the court your lawyer can give you advice about the options, and consider the best timing for the application too. It might be important for example to make sure you are in a safe place before any application is made or any correspondence is sent.
Since the pandemic, hearings have been a mixture of remote or in person hearings. ‘Special measures’ around safety, can also be considered by the lawyer, in conjunction with the court office.
After the hearing, the lawyer drafts the court order and emails it to the Judge who can then approve or amend. A process server can be instructed and provided with the information to make sure that the order could be served on the perpetrator.
Many organisations and businesses have become more aware of this issue. For instance, more than half of UK pharmacies are signed up to the ‘Ask for ANI’ scheme, (including Boots the chemist, Lloyds pharmacies and some independent pharmacies) where anyone alerting staff that they need help would be taken into a separate room, and offered immediate assistance. Many pub chains are signed up and aware of a similar scheme, ‘Ask for Angela’. Rail companies across the country are working in conjunction with Women’s Aid to offer the ‘Rail to Refuge’ scheme which provides free travel for victims fleeing their home and traveling to a safe place.
The Police have also taken a very proactive approach to assisting victims of domestic abuse, and have introduced a way to seek emergency assistance if it is not safe to speak on the phone. After dialling 999 on a mobile, dial 55 when prompted and this will alert the call handlers that there is an emergency that needs dealing with (but this will not allow location tracking). If calling from a landline, the call will automatically be transferred to the police where they will be able to hear background noise and track the location.
Ruth Hawkins & Irena Osborne contributed to ‘Separating With Children 101‘, 3rd edition (Bath Publishing)