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What you can do to help protect yourself from domestic abuse

If you, or someone you know, is suffering with domestic abuse, it can be difficult to know what measures you can put in place to help you. In this blog post we take a look at the options that are available and what you can do to help protect yourself from domestic abuse.

New Legislation on Definition of Domestic Abuse

The Domestic Abuse Bill 2020 recently had its First Reading in the House of Commons. This Bill has been introduced to ‘create, for the first time, a cross-government statutory definition of domestic abuse’.  The virtue behind this is that, with a clear, unequivocal definition, domestic abuse will be more easily understood, victims protected, and perpetrators prosecuted.

Currently, there is no universal legal definition of the phrase, as ‘domestic abuse’ in itself is not an offence. However, depending on the circumstances, it is prosecuted via offences such as controlling or coercive behaviour (section 76 Serious Crime Act 2015), assault occasioning ABH/GBH etc (Offences Against the Person Act 1861) or harassment (section 3 Protection from Harassment Act 1997). Each of these offences has its own particular wording which defines the unlawful behaviour.

Legal Protections for Victims

Despite the lack of a legal definition, domestic abuse is still unacceptable, and the law includes provisions intended to protect victims. Primarily, these comprise injunctive orders which can, for example, prevent an abuser from contacting a victim. Some people may not be aware that these are not solely obtained via the police but can also be obtained from an application to the Family Court under the Family Law Act 1996 (FLA). But what is the difference between these, and in what circumstances are they appropriate?

Police Action – Domestic Violence Protection Orders

Without doubt, the first thing to do in a situation of immediate danger is to contact the police. The police, in accordance with their protocols, will decide what action to take and may arrest the individual who is suspected of having committed or being likely to commit a crime. The police, under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, are only able to make an arrest where one is considered necessary. If an arrest is made, the Crown Prosecution Service will decide whether enough evidence is available to charge the individual, balancing the likelihood of a conviction with the expense and other requirements of prosecuting.

Where immediate action is required to protect a victim, the police can issue a Domestic Violence Protection Notice (DVPN) and subsequently a Domestic Violence Protection Order (DVPO). These are used where other measures would not be sufficient, such as bail conditions, or no further action will be taken i.e. charging the perpetrator. A DVPN or DVPO can contain conditions such as eviction from a property or prevention from contacting the victim.

However, these are discretionary measures and therefore subjectively issued. During the current Coronavirus situation, it has been reported that there have been set backs in issuing these notices due to their requirement for an alternative address to be provided by the perpetrator.

Therefore, what you can do to help protect yourself from domestic abuse that doesn’t involve the police may be something you want to consider.

Orders under the Family Law Act 1996

If, for whatever reason, it is not possible or practicable to obtain protection via the police service, the Family Courts can offer an alternative course.

The FLA does not define domestic abuse in itself but enables Family Courts to make a wide range of orders if considered reasonable in all of the circumstances. These are similar to the conditions which can be made under police DVPNs and DVPOs e.g. for one party to leave a property, to keep a specific distance away from the other party and/or to refrain from contacting them. Both police and FLA injunctions can include a power of arrest enabling an immediate arrest if terms are breached.

Orders can be obtained quickly in emergency situations and the Family Courts continue to operate to protect victims during the current Coronavirus outbreak. For more information on obtaining an order, or for general advice on what you can do to help protect yourself from domestic abuse, please contact one of our experts.

Having graduated in July 2017 with a first class honours degree in law from the University of Bedfordshire, Holly has since been exploring her interest in Family Law. She is currently undertaking her postgraduate LPC and masters course to qualify as a family solicitor. Holly joined Hawkins Family Law in August 2017. She has previously volunteered with public legal advice services and currently is enjoying a new challenge having recently begun a paralegal role at Hawkins Family Law.

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