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 police have a range of powers available to further protect victims of domestic abuse. These include : –
Until recently, there was 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.
When police think people are at high risk from abuse they can refer them to the Independent Domestic Violence Advocacy Service (IDVAS). IDVAS offer support female victims through the legal process and safety plan to help prevent further abuse.
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.
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.
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.
Support in the Specialist Domestic Violence Court for victims
Every time the Specialist domestic violence court is held, an IDVA is available for victims to talk to. They will offer you the opportunity to talk about the concerns or worries you may have, talk you through the court process and answer any questions you may have.
If you want to discuss any concerns you may have with an IDVA prior to the court case happening, please contact the Sheffield Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 808 22414.
Further information on domestic abuse and the law
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 can help to obtain orders and injunctions as above. Others can be found in the telephone directory or in this list
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