Domestic abuse during the COVID-19 lockdown: Q&A
The lockdown associated with the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has resulted in a dramatic change to daily life for most of us. Despite the necessity of lockdown to protect the NHS, it has resulted in a huge increase in calls to domestic abuse helplines and online searches for domestic abuse support. For those going through domestic abuse or living through the anxiety of feeling at risk of it, the lockdown can feel intolerable. It is important to remember that you are not alone, and there is help available from the police, helplines, refuges and other support services. A directory of support networks and helplines is available at gov.uk. Always call 999 in an emergency or if you are in immediate danger.
To help clarify what the law says on matters of domestic abuse, read on to find the answers to some key questions.
What can I do if I am suffering domestic violence or abuse during the coronavirus lockdown?
With the current restrictions on movement in place for at least another 3 weeks (from the time of writing) it is hard to know what you can or cannot do to safeguard yourself and any children that are living with you against domestic violence. The guidelines are far from straightforward and here we hope to give you a clearer indication as to what you can do to protect yourself and those living with you, if you fear for your safety at home.
Can I leave the house?
The current Government measures say that people should go out as little as possible and only leave the house if they have a “reasonable excuse”.
What is a ‘reasonable excuse’?
Police officers have been issued guidelines as to what is ‘reasonable’. This includes the ability to move to a friend’s house for several days to assist with any ‘cooling off’ period that may be needed following incidents of domestic dispute in the family home. The time that you are expected to stay with friends or family members is likely to be measured in days rather than hours. This is not permission from the police to go and visit friends, or family, but it is a clear example where people who are in fear for their safety at home can leave to seek refuge elsewhere.
Of course, you must bear in mind whether your movement puts you or the people you are moving in with at risk from coronavirus.
What other protection is there?
Whilst we are all self-isolating, the judicial system continues to operate, albeit in a much more limited capacity. Urgent applications, such as injunctions, will still be dealt with, and attending Court to satisfy bail conditions or participate in legal proceedings constitutes a “reasonable excuse”. Any criminal proceedings arising from domestic abuse will continue to take place where possible.
Can I obtain an injunction?
Injunctions (orders preventing threats of violence against partners and/or children or intimidating, harassing or pestering behaviour) and orders regulating who can live in the family home can still be applied for. The family courts have rapidly introduced remote hearing services through Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams or Zoom, but will still hear evidence in person where it is safe and necessary to do so.
To ensure the safety of you and your children whilst these current stay-at-home measures remain in place, consider whether there is a family member or friend you could seek refuge with safely. Keep your car keys and mobile phone readily available (in case you need to leave the house quickly) and keep track also of the essential items that you will need to take for you to be able to stay away from home for a couple of days.
Whether or not social restrictions apply the key advice remains the same; if you fear for your safety or the safety of your children then contact the police and seek urgent legal advice. There is simply no excuse for domestic abuse.
For legal advice and to discuss your legal rights and options, please contact us below. However, we emphasise that you must always call 999 in an emergency or if you are in immediate danger.Email Jonathan
Senior associate, chartered legal executive, Jonathan Eager is a member of Resolution, an organisation committed to the constructive resolution of family disputes. He is noted for his expertise in national legal guide The Legal 500.
We’re regularly updating our website with more COVID-19 legal insights, so keep an eye on willans.co.uk/covid19 for the latest legal perspectives relating to the coronavirus.