First Lockdown Caused Surge in Domestic Abuse Court Orders

The UK’s first lockdown resulted in a record number of people obtaining court orders for domestic abuse in order to protect themselves.

New figures released reveal that more than 8,800 applications for domestic violence remedy orders were registered in England and Wales between April and June 2020. This is the highest number ever recorded by the Ministry of Justice in a quarter – with the figure being 24% higher than the same period last year.

The surge in domestic abuse cases has been attributed to lockdown going on for a number of months, resulting in a “pressure cooker” effect whereby victims of abusers feel physically and mentally trapped in their homes and cannot escape.

More than 60% of those living with an abuser had reported that their situation had got worse during the pandemic, according to a Women’s Aid survey.

Lisa King, communications director of Refuge, said:

“The very sad fact of the matter is that it’s a tactic of domestic abuse to isolate someone, so lockdown is like a perpetrator’s dream. It’s enforced isolation, enforced contact with them 24/7, and no window of opportunity for support. I think that that’s really frightening.”

Majority of court interventions are non-molestation orders, these are injunctions generally used to stop people harassing ex partners. Judges can also make ‘occupation orders’ to keep an abusive person out of the home.

Claire Reid, a family law partner at Hall Brown solicitors, said that before lockdown it would have been rare for her firm to take on cases with these type of injunctions.

“We can have periods of time when no one in our team has these kinds of cases. But on our legal team of around 30 people, every one of us had at least one such case during lockdown.” Reid thought more responsive policing was a factor as well as the “pressure-cooker environment”.

From April 2017, police have had the powers to “release under investigation” someone who had been prosecuted with abuse – which does not come with any restrictive conditions to ban them from seeing the victim, unlike bail. It is therefore believed that releasing suspected abusers without bail conditions may have attributed to the surge too.

Furthermore, there has reduction of refuge places to seek help over the past 10 years due to cutbacks in public spending – with 64% of referrals refused refuge in the 2019 financial year due to lack of bed space, according to Women’s Aid Research.

The Domestic Abuse Bill is expected to be introduced early in 2021, which has even greater support and protection for victims and increased punishments for offenders – and is hoped to introduce a legal obligation to fund refuges. The landmark Bill has the most comprehensive measures to confront head on these terrible crimes which has been very much welcomed by charities, family legal industry and stakeholders across the country.

The Home Office said:

“We continue to work with charities and the domestic abuse commissioner on an unprecedented package of support. This includes £2m to ensure helplines and online services are easily accessible, our #YouAreNotAlone national awareness-raising campaign and £76m for charities supporting survivors.”

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