In the UK, people suffering domestic abuse can seek legal protection through civil law or criminal law. Some legal options are listed below but if you are affected by domestic abuse you should get detailed, individual advice from a solicitor to find out their best means of legal protection. If you have a low income, you can apply for public funding (previously called legal aid) through your solicitor to cover some or all of the costs of any legal work. Several solicitors in Sheffield offer the first half hour for free.
Some people may not want to involve the police, when they are experiencing abuse. They may want to have more control over legal proceedings or want the focus to be on protecting themselves and their children, rather than punishing the offending partner. There are three types of injunctions available through civil law to help protect people from domestic abuse, which can be applied for through a solicitor:
- Non-Molestation Order – to protect applicants and their children from harassment, threats and violence. Orders can be tailored to individual cases to stop abusers from doing particular things, such as ringing their ex at work etc. Breaching (deliberately ignoring) a non-molestation order is a criminal offence and can carry a punishment of up to 5 years in prison.
- Occupation Order – to prevent an abusive partner or ex-partner from living in or turning up at the family home. (Occupation Orders are still possible if the abusive partner’s name is on the mortgage or tenancy).
- Forced Marriage Protection Order – to change the behaviour of anyone trying to threaten or manipulate a family member into marriage against their will. Breaching a Forced Marriage Protection Order can carry a punishment of up to 2 years in prison.
If you have concerns about children, you can also apply for a:
- Prohibited Steps Order– which can be granted by a judge in family cases, where couples have shared Parental Responsibility (PR), to prevent a parent from certain actions, such as taking them out of the UK, or removing them from school, especially if there is concern over the parent not returning the child
There are also new police powers. Please see the below documents:
There is no specific law covering domestic abuse but many forms of violence and intimidation are crimes. When police arrest people because they are abusing their partner, they may charge them with various crimes, such as: harassment, criminal damage, assault, actual bodily harm, grievous bodily harm, rape, murder etc.
In most cases going to Criminal Court, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) prosecutes the abusive partner on the victim’s behalf and the abuser has a solicitor acting in their defence. Although they may have pressed charges, women or men who have experienced violence will usually be witnesses to the crime, so they will not have their own solicitor, but the prosecution solicitor should keep them updated. The CPS decides whether there is enough evidence for the trial to go ahead and sometimes may decide to discontinue the case if they feel a conviction is unlikely, or may decide to continue a case even if the victim no longer wishes the case to go ahead. As key witnesses, victims may feel:
- Scared – that they will make their ex-partner angry by speaking out against them and that there might be reprisals against them
- Guilty – they may feel they are partly to blame and that the consequences are too severe i.e. ‘He couldn’t cope with going to prison’. ‘If I hadn’t made her jealous…’
- Isolated – as witnesses, victims may feel left out of the legal process or confused by it. They may miss their partner and feel lonely.
- Vulnerable – they may relive bad experiences, think about them repeatedly and try to make sense of them for the court
- Under pressure from family and friends – relatives might play down the abuse, blame victims for involving the police or ‘making matters worse’ and encourage victims to withdraw statements.
When police think people are at high risk from abuse they can refer them to the Independent Domestic Violence Advocacy Service (IDVAS). IDVAS can support female victims through the legal process and safety plan to help prevent further abuse.
Judges can also impose a Restraining Order (like a Non–Molestation Order), with particular conditions attached to prevent the abuser from contacting you or hurting you. Breaching the Restraining Order can be a criminal offence. When police think women are at high risk from abuse they can refer them to the Independent Domestic Violence Advocacy Service (IDVAS). IDVAS can support female victims (and from April 2010 male victims) through the legal process and safety plan to help prevent further abuse.
SDVC: Specialist Domestic Violence Court
In Sheffield we have a specialist court system for domestic abuse cases. The Specialist Domestic Violence Court is designed to make prosecutions more successful and to support victims through the process better. To do this, cases can be:
fast tracked– so the trial happens as quickly as possible and isn’t drawn out for the victim and to reduce the likelihood of dropping charges.
prosecuted and sentenced well – with everyone in the process understanding the patterns and impact of domestic abuse
In some cases, vulnerable witnesses are allowed special measures, such as talking through a video link or screen, so that they will not have to face their abuser in court, or a closed court with no publicity. But special measures can’t always be guaranteed. The court will most frequently allow special measures for children, rape victims or especially vulnerable adults.
Sheffield Domestic Violence Court Data for 2008-9 There were 6492 incidents involving police in the year 2008-9. 2810 (43%) of these incidents were crimed and 2156 resulted in arrest.In the same year 197 cases were reviewed at MARAC, 83 of which were reviewed more than once (repeated cases).468 perpetrators of domestic violence were prosecuted at court in 2008-9 and 70% of these prosecutions were successful. Of those 468 defendants, 445 (95%) were male and 23 (5%) were female.
Further information on domestic abuse and the law
National Centre for Domestic Violence
NCDV, the National Centre for Domestic Violence, is a not for profit organisation that provides free, fast legal support to survivors of domestic abuse and is available to everybody, irrespective of financial circumstances, sexual orientation, race or gender.
NCDV specialise in obtaining three types of civil domestic violence injunctions Non Molestation Orders, Occupation Orders and Prohibited Steps Orders (all of which are usually obtained within 24 hours). Police and agencies with consent of the person suffering the abuse can refer directly to NCDV, as can the person themselves.
Solicitors dealing with domestic abuse in Sheffield
Sheffield DACT is not promoting or endorsing the following solicitors, but providing information for people to make their own choices. The following solicitors were part of the Sheffield Injunction Group who offer public funding. Others can be found in the telephone directory.
A&N Care Solicitors Ltd
0114 321 7500 www.caresolicitors.com
0114 281 3636 www.bestsolicitorsonline.co.uk
0114 273 8809 www.favells.co.uk
0114 358 9009 www.graysons.co.uk
0114 249 6666 www.howells-solicitors.com
Norrie Waite & Slater
0800 334 5301 www.norriewaite.co.uk
Taylor and Emmett
0114 218 4000/4040 www.tayloremmet.co.uk