Domestic Violence in the UK
Domestic Violence is currently a huge issue in the UK and often involves violence between married couples but can also extend to violence towards children etc. Currently for women aged between 19 and 44, domestic violence is the leading cause of morbidity – greater than cancer, war and motor vehicle accidents.
An extremely high percentage of those who suffer from domestic violence are women.
What legislation exists in the UK to deal with domestic violence?
Offences in relation to domestic violence are covered by Part IV the Family Law Act 1996 which has been amended by the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004.
Offences Against the Person
Many forms of domestic abuse will take the form of an offence against the person. This is a criminal offence which will carry a jail term or a fine depending on the seriousness of the offence.
If I have suffered or am suffering from domestic violence, what are the options available to me?
If you are suffering domestic abuse at the hands of another you can apply to obtain a court order called an injunction which can prevent various things from happening. Under Part IV of the Family Law Act the following two options for an injunction are available:
- An occupation order
- A non-molestation order
An occupation order regulates who can live in the family home. An occupation order can also restrict your abuser from entering the area surrounding the family home. An occupation order is often used when someone does not feel safe continuing to live with their partner, or if they have left home because of violence, but then want to return and exclude their abuser.
A non-molestation order is aimed at preventing a person’s partner or ex-partner from using or threatening violence against that person or their child child, or intimidating, harassing or pestering that person in order to ensure the health, safety and well-being of that person and their children.
Who can apply for one of the above orders?
Under Part IV of the Family Law act in order to apply for one of the above orders you must be an “associated person”.
What is meant by the term associated person?
If you are an associated person it means that you and your partner or ex-partner must be related or have an association which each other in one of the following ways:
- You are still or have been married to each other
- You are still or have been in a civil partnership with each other
- You are cohabitants or former cohabitants
- You live or have lived in the same household
- You are relatives
- You have formally agreed to marry each other – this still applies even if the agreement has now ended
- You have a child together – this can include both those who are parents of the same child and also those who have parental responsibility for the same child
- You are both involved in the same family proceedings – for example divorce of child contact
Changes brought about by the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004
The Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act (DVCVA) brought about two significant additions to the above list of associated persons. They are as follows:
- Amending the definition of cohabitants
- Creating a new category of associated persons
Definition of cohabitants
Section 3 of the DVCVA amends the definition of cohabitants to include same-sex cohabitants. This means that the rights of same-sex cohabitants are brought in line with the rights of heterosexual cohabitants enabling them to allow for an injunction on the grounds of being a cohabitant rather than being part of the same household as the respondent.
New Category of Associated Persons
Section 4 of the DVCVA introduces a new category of associated persons, namely those who have or have had an intimate personal relationship with each other which is or was of significant duration.
What is meant by the term intimate relationship?
An intimate relationship is not necessarily limited to a sexual one and ensures that both heterosexual and same-sex couples who do not live together and do not have children together but have been involved in a relationship for some time to apply for an injunctive order.
What is meant by a significant duration?
As yet there is no a large body of case law as to what will be taken to be a relationship of a significant duration. This will be a matter for the court to decide on a case-by-case basis.
What if I do not fall within the scope of an associated person?
If you do not fall within the definition of an associated person for the purpose of the Family Law Act but you are being continually harassed, threatened, pestered or stalked after a relationship has ended, you can also apply for a civil injunction under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
How long will it take to obtain an injunction?
If an individual is in immediate danger then an application can be made to the court on the same day without the need of the abuser being present. This form of application is called an ex parte or “without notice” application.
In order for this to be granted the court will have to consider whether that person is at risk of significant harm and whether they will be prevented or deterred from applying if they have to wait and whether their abuser is avoiding being served notice by not appearing in the court.
If an individual has been granted an ex parte notice then they will have to return to court for a full hearing once the abuser has been served with the notice.
How long will an injunction under the Family Law Act last?
Injunctions are commonly for a specified period of time, for example 12 months. They can also be renewed or they can be made “until further notice”.
Extension of the orders
There is no time limit on the length of time that a non-molestation order can be extended.
Occupation orders can only be extended beyond the initial 12 month period if that person has a legal right to stay in the home, for example they are the owner or co-owner, tenant or joint tenant or due to the fact that they are of have been married to the owner or tenant.
What happens if an order is breached?
A breach of an occupation order is a civil offence meaning that they are likely to face charges in the civil court due to the breach of the order. You can attach a power of arrest into an occupation order meaning that if it is breached the individual who is subject of the order can be arrested but will not have committed a criminal offence.
A breach of an occupation will be regarded as contempt of court in a civil court.
One of the most significant changes brought in by the DVCVA is that breach of a non-molestation order becomes a criminal offence.
Accordingly now under the Family Act a person will be guilty of a criminal offence if without reasonable excuse a person does anything that he is prohibited from doing by a non-molestation order. That person, however, will have to be aware of the existence of the order and the terms of the order.
If an individual has been held to be in contempt of court due to his conduct in breaching an occupation order for example, then they cannot also be punished under this section for a criminal offence.
Domestic Violence Helpline
The UK Government has recently set up a new 24 hour domestic violence helpline which will provide access to 24-hour emergency refuge accommodation, as well as an information service, including safety planning and translation facilities.