April 7, 2020

Domestic abuse during Coronavirus lockdown – legal support and guidance is here

The Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales has reported that calls to domestic abuse helplines have increased by 65% during the first weekend of lockdown and Avon and Somerset Constabulary have registered an increase of 20.9% in domestic abuse related interventions in the past 2 weeks.

Through the Home Secretary Priti Patel, the Government has made it very clear that lockdown does not prevent victims from leaving their home to seek help. Courts continue to operate, albeit with remote hearings, and we continue to be able to offer our assistance with urgent applications and hearings within the boundaries of social distancing guidelines.

Our compassionate and experienced team can advise you about the best way to seek protection through the Courts at this difficult time, and we often work hand in hand with local support services for victims of domestic abuse, who continue to operate and could offer you practical assistance if needed.

Non Molestation Orders

In particular, we can represent you in emergency applications for non molestation orders, which are injunctions that prohibit a person (normally a spouse or cohabitee) from being threatening or violent against another person or any child of the family. These Orders often state that a specified person must not contact you and/or harass you e.g. by sending you messages, calling you, and contacting you through social media and can also restrict where that person can go. An application for a Non-Molestation Order is normally made ‘without notice’, i.e. without telling the other person about it, provided the Court is satisfied that there is an urgent need for protection of the victim that cannot be addressed in any other way. Breach of a Non Molestation Order constitutes a criminal offence in its own right.

Occupation Orders

Often an application for an Occupation Order is made at the same time as an application for a non molestation order. This is an Order which prevents a person who is legally entitled to occupy a property (because he is a tenant or an owner) from accessing it or living there, to protect a victim of domestic abuse or prevent children from suffering harm. An Occupation Order will not be made without the other person being informed of the application and the lockdown situation is likely to present additional hurdles, but there is no bar to these orders continuing to be made in the current circumstances. An Occupation Order can be made in your favour even if you have no legal rights to occupy the property where you live (e.g. because you are not named on the tenancy or are not a joint owner).

These orders remove someone’s right to live in a property for a specified period, whether they own it, or are named or the tenancy. An Occupation Order can remove the person’s right to live in the entire house, or it can limit where they can go in the house for a fixed period of time – whether that is something that is appropriate in your case will very much depend on your circumstances.

The Court will not make an Occupation Order lightly and will need to be completely satisfied that there are no other options – e.g. can you go to a refuge? Will the local authority house you urgently? Do you have family you can go to stay with whilst the issue of housing is sorted? We are mindful that this is going to present additional challenges during lockdown. If you have no other option then we can help you to assess whether an Occupation order is appropriate.

It is very rare that the Court will make this type of order without notice to the other person because of the consequences. We will of course advise you on a case by case by case basis as to whether an application for an emergency order is appropriate.

If you own the property on your own or rent and the tenancy is in your sole name then there may be other options you can consider first before resorting to asking for an occupation order – for example having the locks changed and/or speaking to your housing management

Urgent Advice

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you require our help. We appreciate that the lockdown situation may make the practicalities of seeking help more difficult. We will do our utmost to work flexibly and sensitively in order to swiftly take your instructions, advise and assist you. There does not always need to be video or telephone contact, for example, you can reach out to us by email. Further, whilst ordinarily your attendance at Court hearings (if only by telephone) would be required, we can ask the Court for it to be excused for your protection, given the circumstances.

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