Do you know someone who is suffering from domestic violence?
Are you worried about another person - a member of your family, a child, and concerned about experiences they may be having within their family?
What can you do? What should you do?
1.How can victims get help?
There are essentially two courses of legal remedy:
The police; and
The family court.
What is the difference - how does one decide which course to adopt?
Where there has been an incident or there is a pattern of behaviour this can be reported to the police who will investigate and if satisfied that there has been an offence, will intervene. The police have a wide range of powers to intervene promptly and effectively including domestic violence protection notices which the police can issue or apply to the court for a domestic violence protection order.
What is a domestic violence protection notice (DVPN)?
This is a notice which the police can serve against an individual aged over 18 where the police reasonably believe he or she has been violent or has threatened violence against you and that you need to be protected from him or her. The police can serve a DVPN even if you do not agree to it. A DVPN places conditions on the person which may include:-
This can be issued even if the other person usually lives at your home.
What is a domestic violence protection order (DVPO)?
A senior police officer can review the evidence and may decide that an order should be obtained from the court. The order can last for a minimum of 14 days and a maximum of 28 days.
The court will hear the application for a DVPO within 48 hours. The court can then impose conditions and breach of those conditions can result in the person breaching the order being arrested and kept in custody and can ultimately result in a fine of up to £5,000 or imprisonment for two months.
The Family Court
The family court can also intervene to deal with emergencies. Victims may go to court to ask for an order - also called an injunction - to prevent a repetition of the conduct complained of. However given the very wide powers which the police now have, it is often the case that the police intervene at the outset and take immediate protective measures to secure the victim's safety and to challenge the abuser but over the longer term the family court can make orders which protect against repetition in the future. A victim may seek protection from the abuser and in some cases to exclude the abuser from the home.
Why might I go to the family court if the police can obtain protection for me?
DVPOs are very short-term. The family court can make much longer-term orders.
2. What is domestic abuse?
Domestic abuse covers more than physical violence. It includes verbal, sexual, emotional or other psychological abuse, harassment or controlling behaviour. This can include financial and indirect controlling behaviour. It does not have to involve physical aggression. It is recognised that domestic violence often escalates from threats and verbal abuse to violence.
The Government definition is: "any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality" (Home Office: Domestic Violence and Abuse).
Violence and abuse can be used by the perpetrator to gain control over their victim by:
Coercive behaviour is an act or pattern of acts comprising of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish or frighten the victim.
How can I get help?
In an emergency call 999.
If you are worried about a situation but it is not an emergency there are many national and regional organisations that can help like The National Domestic Violence Helpline.
4. Can I get protection against anyone who is subjecting me to domestic abuse?
The Police - the police can form a view on the allegations which you have made and take appropriate steps against any perpetrator.
Family Court - the remedies available in the family court are against Associated Persons. The term is defined in the legislation but essentially means that the perpetrator is someone who is or has been in a close and intimate relationship with you. These are generally partners or people to whom one is related or with whom one was living. It could be an adult child or the parent of a child. If a couple have lived in the name household they will be an Associated Person. " Cohabitants" includes both heterosexual and same sex couples.
5. Occupation Order
I need an occupation order - I have nowhere else to live - the house belongs to my partner.
It is possible to get an occupation order even if you are not the owner or tenant of the property. Such orders are short-term remedies and are time-limited. They are designed to give couples a breathing space to decide on what they are going to do next. on what they are going to do next. The court will not order one partner to vacate a property permanently under the terms of an injunction but will make a temporary order which might last typically 3 months, 6 months or occasionally longer.
However where there are children there may be other longer term solutions to the housing issue.
6. Is it expensive to get justice in domestic violence cases?
If the police deal with the matter this will be free. That is one reason why victims are advised to report abuse to the police.
If the victim needs a longer-term order from the family court or does not wish to use the criminal procedures, Legal Aid may be available.
Although the availability of Legal Aid has been severely curtailed it is still available for domestic violence injunctions. It is means tested so you have to be able to satisfy the court that your income is low - essentially that it is equivalent to State benefit levels - and furthermore that you have no significant available capital with which to pay your legal fees.
No court fees are charged for domestic violence injunctions (but if you employ a solicitor they will charge you unless you are eligible for Legal Aid). If Legal Aid is not available then the costs can be high. It would be unusual for legal fees to be less than £1,000 and they could quite possibly amount to the best part of £3,000. This money is rarely recovered from the opponent.
7. Being harassed by someone at work or a neighbour?
If you have never been in a relationship with an abuser you may still report the matter to the police. The police may be prepared to take action. If the police are not prepared to prosecute or indeed intervene then you may use the provisions of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. An injunction can be obtained in the county court (not the family court) to require an abuser to desist from a course of action. The court can also award damages. There has to be a course of action - a one-off incident no matter how serious would not give grounds for action under the Protection from Harassment Act.
8. Are you worried about the effects of an abusive relationship upon a child in the family?
You may be worried about a grandchild or a niece or nephew or a neighbour. Very clear guidance to the courts for many years has been that children will be aware of domestic violence even if they do not witness it and it will impact on their development. In serious cases if a child is in a household where there is significant violence that child may be deemed to suffer significant harm which may result in that child being removed to a place of safety. It is an important part of safely parenting one's children that they are not exposed to aggression and violence.
If you need more advice about these issues please contact a member of Neves Family Team. This article was written by Mary McEvoy, head of the family department at Neves Solicitors.