DOMESTIC ABUSE AND HARASSMENT
Jane Sisson-Pell Family Law Barrister
Ms “Hey I do not know if this will go direct to Jane who dealt with my case today. I am just desperate to say a huge ‘Thank you’ again. Last night I changed my mind about attending court due to nerves, but the instant I met Jane, I felt at total ease. Her professionalism and her eye for detail ensured the result was what I desperately needed. I didn’t feel as though I was being interviewed. She made conversation & in that, she got important information (which if it had not had been added to my statement, the Judge said that he would not have made the order in today’s hearing). So again, I know it’s your job, I’ll hopefully feel safer with my kids just in our day to day lives. In the nicest way, I hope I never have to see you again, but I’m sure I won’t because of the accuracy and standard of the statement. Lots of love From……”
“Jane you have been amazing, I honestly could not have asked for anyone better. The way in which you supported me today shows your true passion and dedication towards your work and I loved your enthusiasm.”
Jane has represented and worked with survivors of domestic abuse for a number of years. She understands how distressing, bewildering and frightening domestic abuse and/or harassment can be. Jane is noted for treating her clients with respect and dignity when they are speaking about very personal and often upsetting family matters.
Jane knows that domestic abuse and harassment, happens in every sector of society. It occurs whether the parties are young, middle aged or elderly, if they have a top job or no job. It happens in heterosexual and gay relationships. It can occur during a relationship and after a relationship has ended. It happens between parents and their children and between brother and sister and in other family members.
Domestic abuse can take many forms including:
- physical abuse
- sexual abuse
- emotional abuse
- coercive controlling behaviour
- forced marriage (adult children are included)
- and forcing a child to witness abuse.
On 29th December 2015, a new criminal offence of coercive or controlling behaviour came into force covering patterns of behaviour in intimate relationships where one party dominates the other in overt and subtle ways for example refusing to let the other party socialise with friends or family or controlling their money. In other words conduct falling short of physical violence but impacting adversely on the other party’s life may suffice for this offence, which attracts a maximum sentence of 5 years imprisonment.
The term harassment covers a wide range of unwanted behaviour and can include being followed, someone waiting outside your work or calling at your home unexpectedly. It can involve being shouted and/or sworn at or someone damaging your property.
It is unbelievable that some people still ask ‘why do they stay?’
Professionals agree that there are so many reasons why a person stays in an abusive relationship. It could be because they are too frightened to leave or there is no alternative accommodation to go to. Finances could make it impossible to leave. It may be a critical time in their child’s education, such as GCSEs. Perhaps, after an apology from the abuser, it seems worth another try. They may have been made to feel partly to blame. Perhaps they feel sorry for the abuser. If you have been subjected to domestic violence and abuse, you may have experienced some or all of these feelings.
Survivors of domestic abuse, particularly those who have suffered over a long period of time will have difficult decisions to make and delay in dealing with the situation is understandable. The reality is that domestic abuse tends to increase in severity over time.
If you are reading this because you are experiencing domestic abuse, your first priority must be for you and your children to stay safe. Do contact one of the many local support agencies. For more information about your local support agencies, visit the ‘Resources’ page on this website and ring the national help line numbers. They will then direct you to your local agencies. Your second priority should be to obtain urgent legal advice about your options.
In some circumstances public finding can be available for individuals who have experienced domestic abuse and harassment. From 08/01/18, the rules in respect of eligibility for legal aid for survivors of domestic abuse are relaxed. The rule about the 5 year time limit for domestic abuse has been removed and the type of documents accepted as evidence of abuse, has been widened to include statements from domestic violence support organisations and housing support officers.
A family court order to protect you
Family court judges are most experienced and are well aware that you may not feel safe if you have to alert your abuser, in advance of your intention to apply for a court order to protect you.
You can make your first application to court without the abuser even knowing about it. This is called a ‘without notice’ application. Whilst it is exceptional for a without notice application to be granted for an occupation order, a ‘without notice’ non-molestation order can be made, if a good case is put before the court to support the application. If the ‘without notice’ application is granted, the court will arrange for the case to come back quickly, when both parties can be present. This hearing provides the respondent with an opportunity to to give his/her account. If you are frightened to go to court for the second hearing, arrangements can be made for your protection at court, such as arriving at a different court entrance and being met and taken to a private waiting room away from the general waiting area.
On 18th January 2017, the President of the Family Division issued new guidance about ‘without notice’ hearings including the following:-
‘I remind all practitioners and judges of the principle, which applies to all ex parte (without notice) injunctive orders made by the Family Court or by the Family Division, irrespective of the subject matter of the proceedings or the terms of the order, that a without notice application will normally be appropriate only if:
- (a) there is an emergency or other great urgency, so that it is impossible to give any notice, however short or informal, or
- (b) there is a real risk that, if alerted to what is proposed, if ‘tipped off’, the respondent will take steps in advance of the hearing to thwart the court’s order or otherwise to defeat the ends of justice. In an appropriate case this can justify the grant of a non-molestation injunction without notice, lest the respondent, having been served with an application, further molests his (or her) victim or exerts pressure on her (him) to abandon the proceedings.’
A non-molestation order is a court order which may cover a wide range of conduct e.g. assaults and threats, texting fifty times a day, or stalking, such as following or hanging around outside work premises or waiting at the bus stop at certain times of day. The abuser must have or had some ‘connection’ with you. For example, you are or you were married, you live or you lived together, you have a child together. There is a long list of categories of persons who the law considers are ‘connected’ and who can avail themselves of the protection afforded by non molestation orders.
If the court order is granted, the abuser will be personally served with the court order telling him/her, for example, that he/she cannot go within a mile of a particular place. The court order will show the date and the time when the order expires and the date and time when the case is due back in court. At the second hearing, the court will hear from both parties and can then make a further order, if appropriate.
Any deemed breach of a non-molestation order can result in the abuser’s arrest and a subsequent hearing before the criminal court. The offence of breaching a non-molestation order is triable either way with a maximum penalty on indictment of five years imprisonment, or a fine, or both. In the magistrates’ court, the statutory maximum applies.
An occupation order is a court order setting out who has the right to stay, to return or to be excluded from the family home or specified parts of the family home. An occupation order can be made, even when the excluded party is the home owner or the tenancy is in his/her sole name. An occupation order is a short term order (not exceeding 6 months initially, but this may be extended). This allows for some breathing space, to deal with immediate practical issues such as housing, approaching the relevant support services and obtaining advice in respect of welfare benefits, debts and immigration.
According to the Office of National Statistics, in the year ending March 2018, an estimated 2 million adults aged 16 to 59 years experienced domestic abuse in the previous 12 months (1.3 million women, 695,000 men). This affected almost 6% of adults.
According to the figures, women are twice more likely to experience domestic abuse than men. Media channels and campaigns tend to highlight this, and provide support options to women in need such as Refuge, Women’s Aid and Women’s Support Project. But what support is available for the men affected?
There are still over half a million men who need support. 1 in 6 men reportedly suffer from domestic abuse and shockingly, only 1 in 20 men will seek help.
You will be fully supported and remain in control of your case, every step of the way
Jane is authorised to practise by the Bar Council and is regulated by the Bar Standards Board. She has a right of audience in every court in England and Wales. Jane can be contacted via the online Bar Council Public Access Portal.
Legal Aid Supplier number: 02FCG
Professional Memberships: Lincoln’s Inn, Affiliate member of Resolution and Family Law Bar Association.
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