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Domestic violence and COVID-19 restrictions

The order to stay at home could be causing increasing harm, anxiety and stress for those who are experiencing or feel they are at risk from domestic…

The order to stay at home could be causing increasing harm, anxiety and stress for those who are experiencing or feel they are at risk from domestic abuse. Spending more time at home, you may also suspect that one of your neighbours is a victim of domestic abuse and be wondering what might be the best way to approach the situation.

Am I forced to stay at home in these circumstances?

No. For anybody who feels they are at risk of abuse there is help and support available. Whilst in the current situation staying with family and friends might not be an option, your Local Authority has a responsibility to give you information about your housing rights and, if you have children, you would not be expected to leave them with the perpetrator.

Who should I contact for help?

Where you feel that your safety, or the safety of your children is at risk, the first port of call will always be to contact the police.

If you are in immediate danger, dial 999 and ask for the police. If, when you call, you are unable to talk on the phone then call 999 then press 55. This will redirect your call to the relevant police force who will assist without you needing to speak should you feel in danger.

There are also a number of helplines, such as, The National Domestic Abuse Helpline (available 24 hours a day), Women’s Aid or Men’s Advice Line.

If the perpetrator claims to have COVID-19 could they still be arrested?

Yes, the police have appropriate custody facilities set up to allow them to still arrest people and protect victims. Police support continues as normal during these uncertain times.

What do I do if I suspect one of my neighbours is a victim of domestic abuse?

If you are worried about their safety we would urge you to report it to the police as soon as possible who will then take the necessary steps to investigate. Do not take it upon yourself to approach the perpetrator as this could put yourself and the victim at risk.

Legally, what can be done to stop the perpetrator?

Charges can be brought by the police, or in the alternative, they might issue a harassment warning to the perpetrator, which might be sufficient to stop the unwanted contact. The perpetrator does not need to have been convicted of the offence, but the court will make an order where they feel it is necessary to protect a person from further harassment.

Domestic Violence Protection Order

Where the police have received a report that a person has been violent towards, or has threatened violence towards an associated person, the police can apply to the Magistrates Court for a Domestic Violence Protection Order (“DVPO”). A DVPO implements prohibitions to protect a victim from further acts, or threats of violence, for a maximum period of 28 days. The orders are purposely short to provide a cooling off period between the parties and allow the victim to consider whether they would like to apply for other protective measures, such as a non-molestation order or occupation order.

Stalking Protection Order

Against this backdrop of police assistance available for victims, a new hybrid route has now been successfully tested by Weightmans LLP in a national first. Police forces can now apply for a Stalking Protection Order (“SPO”). This is a civil order which enables the police to better protect victims before a prosecution can commence.

Non-Molestation and Occupation Orders

There are also a number of Family Court remedies available. An application can be made for a non-molestation order (“NMO”). A NMO is an order issued by the court which can prevent a partner or former partner from harming you or your children. It is a form of injunction. If an NMO is breached, it carries with it a power of arrest and the risk of imprisonment for up to five years.

Alongside an application for a NMO it is possible to also make an application for an occupation order. This can ensure that you, alongside any children of the family, can be safely housed in the family home to the exclusion of the perpetrator.

Consider all your options

We would strongly urge that if any of the above applies to you, you do not suffer in silence. There are a range of options open to assist you and ensure that you and your children remain safe.

If you require assistance and wish to discuss your options, please contact Weightmans’ family law team: Eleanor Webster, Associate at eleanor.webster@weightmans, or Becki Smith, Trainee Solicitor at becki.smith@weightmans or Louise Ravencroft, Associate at louise.ravencroft@weightmans.com.

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