The government have announced reforms to domestic abuse cases in England and Wales.
Judges will have the ability to intervene in cases of domestic abuse to prevent the victim from being re-victimised by aggressive questioning from lawyers during a court hearing. Judges will have the power to direct the course of a hearing and intervene during the case.
Changes to lessen court ordeal
This is a move away from the usual approach whereby judges largely do not interfere when lawyers are presenting their case. It is hoped that this will lessen the adversarial nature of court proceedings, thereby helping victims to feel safe and protected in what is a very stressful process. The changes will initially be introduced through pilot programmes.
Court buildings will also provide separate entrances for victims, who will have their own waiting rooms and protective screens to shield them from their abuser.
Coercive control acknowledged
The reforms have been announced as the Domestic Abuse Bill went through its report stage in the House of Commons on 25 June 2020. The Bill also sets out a definition of “coercive control”, an important and much needed step, as well as changes to the court process and new measures to help professionals deal with victims of domestic abuse.
It has been widely reported that rates of domestic abuse have increased during lockdown, as many have been forced to isolate with those who cause them physical or mental harm. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, there are steps that you can take:
- Speak to a friend or family member – if you are feeling threatened and fearing for your safety, call or text someone you know and can trust. If you think that someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, get in touch with them to see if you can help.
- Contact an organisation that can help you – there are many organisations and services, which are open for business as usual, who you can speak to in order to get professional advice. Women’s Aid and other organisations have links on their websites which can be untraceable. They also provide specific coronavirus guidance. Some of the key ones are:
o Refuge – 0808 2000 247 (open 24 hours)
o The National Domestic Violence Helpline – 0800 970 2070
o Women’s Aid – 0808 200 0247 and a Live Chat platform.
- Call 999 – if you or someone you know is at immediate and serious risk of domestic abuse, you should contact the police immediately.
- Speak to a legal professional – legal professionals across the family law spectrum are very much still working, and the courts are still functioning. We can talk you through your circumstance and discuss how best to move forward and keep you safe. We understand that it is not always possible to speak on the telephone safely if you are experiencing domestic abuse, and so you can also contact us via email, text and WhatsApp. We can advise you on the most recent guidance from the family courts as to the court hearings that can still take place (whether at court or remotely) and how this may affect your case. If you need guidance or advice, please do not hesitate to contact us.
We are available to assist you with any questions that you may have. You can contact the team here.
For further articles on the impact coronavirus on family law issues, please click here.