16th April 2020

Domestic Violence and Abuse during Lockdown

The ”lockdown” and social distancing guidance published by the Government on 23 March 2020 was designed with one key aim in mind: to save lives. Staying home helps the NHS, stops the spread of COVID-19 and keeps people safe. But what happens if your home is not a safe space, and staying home with your partner for an indefinite period puts you at risk?

It is worrying to see that since these emergency measures were implemented there has been evidence of a significant rise in domestic abuse. Domestic abuse is not just about physical violence, and can involve emotional, psychological, sexual and financial abuse and control. The law treats these all equally seriously.

Lockdown could cause a number of issues for people needing help with domestic abuse issues. However, help is still available and you do not need to suffer in silence.

Firstly, do not worry about going against the government guidance if you need domestic abuse support. There are specific exceptions within The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 (which came into force on 26 March 2020) which enable you to leave the place you are living with “reasonable excuse”. A reasonable excuse includes the following:

  1. “to avoid injury or illness, or to escape a risk of harm”;
  2. to access “critical public services” including “services provided to victims” (such as domestic abuse support services);
  3. to attend Court or participate in legal proceedings.

Secondly, domestic abuse support services are still running and on hand to assist you. A number of these services can offer online chat facilities and forums, email enquiries, telephone appointments, helpful tips and information on their websites, or a call-back facility so that you can speak to someone at a convenient time to you (perhaps when your partner is not at home). Some useful contact details to access support and assistance are set out below.

Please remember that if you think you are in immediate danger, do call the police on 999. Domestic abuse is a priority for all police forces, and they will listen and come if you call them. If you are unable to speak due to being at home with an abuser, then the silent solution system can be used if calling from your mobile: once you have dialled 999, and the operator answers, dial 55 when asked and this will transfer your call to the relevant police department who can assist you. If you are calling from a landline, any “silent calls” will be connected to a police call handler trained to deal with this situation.

The police must always be the first call if you are in danger and new laws mean that the police now have several very useful powers to help in domestic abuse cases. However, the law can also help without the police ever being involved.

If someone is using or threatening abuse against you, harassing you or pestering you, or even just contacting you when you do not want them to, you can apply to the Court for orders to stop this, and protect you and any children involved. In certain circumstances you can also apply for an “occupation order” to remove someone from your home and forbid them to return.

Even with the lockdown, many Courts remain open and applications for protective orders are dealt with on an urgent basis. Arrangements can be made for hearings to take place remotely by telephone or video call, to avoid you needing to attend Court. Even if you do need to attend the Court, special measures are used to ensure you are safe, and you can ask to not have to even see the other person.

It is always best to have advice as soon as possible about any domestic abuse issue if you can. Many of the support organisations set out below can help, and our family department are very experienced in dealing with these matters. If you do need to apply to the Court it is very important that you correctly complete the relevant application form and prepare a Statement in support, informing the Judge of the circumstances and what orders you may need to protect you and your family.

If you need any legal advice regarding these sensitive issues, then please do contact our Family team on 01730 268211 for a confidential discussion to see how we could help. We can offer telephone and video appointments and out-of-hours appointments, as required.

Emily Bower is a specialist family law solicitor in the Family Department of MacDonald Oates.

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.

Useful Information

The National Domestic Violence and Abuse Helpline Tel: 0808 2000 247

Women’s Aid website: https://www.womensaid.org.uk/information-support/ Email: helpline@womensaid.org.uk 

Stop Domestic Abuse Helpline for Hampshire Tel: 0330 016 5112 Email: advice@stopdomesticabuse.uk

Stop Domestic Abuse Helpline for Portsmouth Tel: 02392 065494 Email: portsmouthreferral@stopdomesticabuse.uk

West Sussex Domestic Abuse Service Tel: 03302228181

Government guide on injunctions when you do not have a lawyer: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/applying-for-a-domestic-violence-family-law-act-injunction-for-unrepresented-applicants