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Coronation Street Highlights Domestic Violence

Over the past few months ITV1's top soap Coronation Street has highlighted issues surrounding domestic violence between characters Tyrone and Kirsty. Last week we saw Tyrone resort to desperate measures in order to protect himself and his daughter.

You don’t have to suffer in silence, and although Tyrone has done the right thing in speaking to people about the abuse, there are some essential things he should also have done. At Lanyon Bowdler we have experience in helping such clients.

The police have a duty to investigate any allegation of domestic abuse, and we would always advise those who have suffered abuse to initially contact the police to seek their assistance, and usually their GP to document any injuries.

Should the police decide not to investigate the matter further, under Part IV of the Family Law Act 1996, victims of domestic abuse (‘applicants’) can seek from the civil Courts an injunction against the perpetrator (‘respondent’), to protect them and any relevant child from further harm.

Before applying to the court for an injunction we would usually recommend sending a warning letter to the respondent about his/her behaviour, putting them on notice that if their behaviour persists then the victim will be advised to seek an injunction against them. The purpose of a warning letter is hopefully to stop the respondent from continuing to subject the victim to incidents of domestic abuse, without the necessity of applying to the Court for an injunction.

Whether it is appropriate for a warning letter to be sent will depend upon the circumstances of the case, and therefore the victim will need to seek legal advice on this issue. Depending on the severity of the incidents of domestic abuse it may be possible to seek an injunction on an emergency basis without providing notice to the respondent.

In Tyrone’s case we would have advised him to immediately contact the police, and if they were not willing to investigate the matter further we would have sought an injunction on an emergency basis, provided he came in to see us straight away. The longer you leave it the harder it will be to persuade the Court’s that an injunction needs to be obtained on an emergency basis.

There are two types of injunctions that the applicant may seek:

Non-molestation orders

  • An order which prohibits the respondent from molesting the applicant and any relevant child.
  • ‘Molesting’ is a vague term and encompasses a large range of unacceptable behaviour including harassment, intimidation and physical harm.  However, within the Order itself the behaviour complained of should be very clearly defined due to enforcement requirements.

Occupation orders

  • An order which regulates who may (or may not) occupy the home.
  • Whether an applicant may apply for an occupation order will depend upon the applicant’s and respondent’s right to live at the property.

The parties’ rights to live at the property will also dictate:

  • What factors the Court must consider before deciding whether to make an occupation order.
  • Duration of the order.

The Court will consider the following matters before deciding if it can make an Occupation Order:

  • The housing needs and housing resources of each party and any children.
  • The parties' respective financial resources.
  • The likely effect of any Order, or any decision by the Court not to make an Occupation Order, on the health, safety or wellbeing of each party and any children.
  • Each party's conduct towards the other.

When seeking an injunction it is important for the applicant to produce evidence to the Court showing:

  • There have been incidents of domestic abuse/molestation (whether emotional or physical).
  • Without the Court granting the injunction sought then the applicant or relevant child remains at risk of further harm.
  • The police have been contacted and have not taken adequate steps to protect the applicant or relevant child (for example, the police have not arrested the respondent and set bail conditions prohibiting them from approaching the applicant).

In Tyrone’s case we probably would have advised him to obtain both Orders so as to protect both himself and essentially his daughter.

If the terms of a Non-Molestation Order are breached it is now a criminal offence. In the event of a breach the Applicant should notify the police immediately. The Crown Prosecution Service would then decide whether to charge and criminally prosecute the accused through the criminal Courts. If the breach is then proved it will be up to the criminal Courts to sentence. The criminal Courts have the power to punish breaches of Non-Molestation Orders with a term of imprisonment up to five years.

There are alternative injunction applications which can be brought in circumstances where you do not fall within the Family Law Act such as civil injunctions or applications under the Protection from Harassment Act. The latter can be pursued as civil or criminal claims and can be of assistance if, for example, you do not qualify for public funding or are not an “associated person” within the Family Law Act.

On a final note, Tyrone could be placing his daughter at risk of harm by allowing the abuse to continue which could lead to an investigation by the Local Authority as both parents have failed to protect their daughter from the risk of physical and emotional abuse.

This story is set to continue for some time and it will be interesting to see what Tyrone eventually chooses to do.