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Nadia Salam: Domestic Abuse – greater understanding is still needed

Date:10 APR 2013

Nadia SalamIn September 2012 I wrote an article about domestic abuse and the impact on victims. With the recent changes in legal aid funding due to LASPO I have thought more about domestic abuse, the impact it has on victims and the children of the family, as well as the difficulty to obtain evidence of such abuse.

I have recently had a number of clients report breaches of non-molestation orders to their respective police forces.  The response that each client has received has differed greatly.  In 2007 the law was changed and made it a criminal offence to breach a non-molestation order, a breach is an arrestable offence.  However this has not been the approach that all police forces across England have taken.  I personally have experienced mixed responses from the police and other professionals dealing with a breach of non-molestation orders.  Some police forces have arrested and charged respondents for texting the applicant to inform them they are running late for contact handover, as the order has stated no communication between the parties and this is a clear breach.  In other instances the respondent has pushed the applicant aggressively, sent messages and been verbally abusive, and the police have not arrested the respondent.

This disparity does little to protect the victims who have been subjected to so much abuse that the protection of the Court through a non-molestation order has been necessary.   If the order has been breached by the respondent the first port of call has always been to report the matter to the police who should arrest the respondent and take appropriate action.  The applicant can also chose to pursue this in civil courts through contempt of court proceedings.  However prior to doing this in most instances the applicant will need to amend the public funding certificate to cover enforcement of the non-molestation order in this way, it is once the certificate has been amended, that any application can be made to Court creating a further delay.  It is important to avoid any delay and to ensure that the victim and any children of the family are safe, and that the police take the necessary actions to protect the victim from any further breaches of the non-molestation order.  The inconsistencies between some police forces have led to vulnerable families being left open for further abuse; this has at times led to these families not trusting the police or the legal system as they have not felt protected.   It is important that this does not continue, inconsistencies do not assist the victim, or enforce the seriousness of the order to the perpetrator.

In other circumstances people have often stated that the police or other professionals have advised them to get a non-molestation order where there has been no grounds to obtain one.  It is important that all professionals working with families and victims of domestic abuse have an understanding of what protection is available for families and victims, and what additional support services may be needed outside of the legal framework. 

There will be more people in need of this assistance following the changes to legal aid.  It is important that professionals also have an understanding of what evidence will be required from victims to get legal aid in private law matters. The Ministry of Justice has produced information and guidance for clients, including template letters for professionals, this will of course assist many potential clients and professionals working with them.  However there will still be large groups of people who will no longer to be able to access legal advice as they will not be able to satisfy the strict evidence criteria for legal aid.

It seems not much has changed since September, except that there is now even a greater need for victims and families to get the correct advice and support than before.

Nadia Salam is a family solicitor-advocate and collaborative lawyer at GT Stewart Solicitors. She practises in all areas of family law and has a particular interest in domestic abuse and children law.

The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.