At the beginning of lockdown, several domestic abuse charities reported a stark and concerning rise in enquiries for help. The National Domestic Abuse helpline received a 700% increase in calls during a single day, while visits to the website were 150% higher in March compared to February. Campaigners and support services expressed concern that the pressure of lockdown restrictions could exacerbate situations of domestic abuse and the Home Office launched the #YouAreNotAlone campaign along with £2m in funding to support helplines and online services.
At the beginning of July, the Government also announced an overhaul of how the Family Courts handle domestic abuse cases in an attempt to provide greater protection for victims. An panel of experts, made up of representatives from domestic abuse charities, family law practitioners, academia, the judiciary, and over 1,200 individuals and organisations, have put forward a number of reforms to improve the current system to protect and support victims of domestic abuse.
These proposals include:
- Access to separate entrances and waiting rooms, and protective screens to help shield victims of domestic abuse when going to court
- Stronger powers for judges to issue barring orders to protect abusers from repeatedly taking victims to court – behaviour which is often a form of continuing abuse and harassment
- A fundamental reform of how the court investigates and hears cases, considering family and criminal matters in parallel to provide more consistent support for victims
- An emphasis on ensuring all parties are safe and able to provide evidence fairly, avoiding the potentially traumatic experience of being in court with an abusive ex-partner
- A review into the presumption of ‘parental involvement’ in terms of finding a balance between the risk of harm to children and victims and the rights of children to have a relationship with both parents
The reforms are the product of an expert-let review into how the family courts deal with domestic abuse cases, following concerns that victims and children were being put at unnecessary risk. Adversarial processes in the family courts have been found to worsen conflict between parents, resulting in further trauma and harassment.
If you are concerned about a domestic abuse issue, or would like to speak confidentially with a family lawyer, please get in touch with us at Frances Lindsay & Co, or contact one of the organisations below for support and advice:
- Police: dial 999 and press 55 when prompted if you are unable to speak
- Gov.uk advice on domestic abuse and how to seek help: http://www.gov.uk/guideance/domestic-abuse-how-to-get-help
- Refuge UK, 24-hour helpline: 0808 2000 247 and website: www.refuge.org.uk
- National Domestic Abuse Helpline website: www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk
- Women’s Aid: www.womensaid.org.uk
- Welsh Women’s Aid Live Fear Free 24-hour helpline: 0808 80 10 800
- Scotland National Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage 24-hour helpline: 0800 027 1234
- Northern Ireland Domestic Abuse 24-hour helpline: 0808 802 1414
- In addition, any woman who needs to travel to find refuge from domestic violence can do so for free on any UK train and the cost of the ticket will be covered by the relevant rail operator. Speak to advisors at chat.womensaid.org.uk for more information on the scheme.