19th Jul 2023

Domestic Abuse Victims: Increased Help Sought via the Courts

By Kara Swift

Domestic Abuse Victims: Increased Help Sought via the Courts

 

In this blog, FLiP Senior Associate Kara Swift and Director Helen Greenfield comment on the quarterly statistics released by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) which indicate an increase in the number of domestic abuse victims seeking help from the family courts. 

Increasing number of domestic abuse victims and survivors seek relief from the family courts.

The Ministry of Justice have published the quarterly statistics for the use of the Family Courts between January and March this year. The full report can be accessed here.

Although the number of applications for protective orders such as non-molestation and occupation orders have remained broadly similar to the equivalent quarter in 2022, it is worth pausing on the overall picture.  As a general trend, it’s possible to see  a longer-term increase in the number of applications with there being almost double the number made since the data recording began in 2011.

The sad statistic that still almost 25,000 people a year are forced into the position of having to apply to the Court for protective orders cannot be ignored.  However, the question is whether the longer term increase in the number of applications relating to domestic abuse can also been seen through a positive lens.  Is it that the Family Courts are now better equipped to assist victims and survivors in seeking the protection they need?  Could it be that the changes in the law and attitude towards domestic abuse in recent years have enabled victims and survivors of domestic abuse to feel more able to seek the protection offered by the Family Courts?

The introduction of the revised Practice Direction 12J of the Family Procedure Rules in October 2017 set out what the Court is required to do in any case in which it is alleged or admitted, or there is other reason to believe, that the child or participant has experienced domestic abuse perpetrated by the other participant or that there is a risk of such abuse.

Further, the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 has bolstered the court’s powers.  It is described as aiming to ensure that “victims have the confidence to come forward and report their experiences, safe in the knowledge that the state will do everything it can, both to support them and their children and pursue the abuser.”  Amongst other things, such as creating a statutory definition of domestic abuse, the Act introduced measures specifically aimed at the Family Courts such as prohibiting perpetrators of abuse from cross examining their victims in person and creating a statutory presumption that victims of domestic abuse are eligible for special measures in the Criminal, Civil and Family Courts.

Most recently, the President of the Family Division has issued updated Practice Guidance on Non-Molestation Injunctions which states that “the court’s approach must be informed by a modern understanding of domestic abuse, including … specific reference to controlling or coercive behaviour and psychological, emotional or economic abuse.”

The Family Court is over-stretched and under-resourced.  It should be a resource to those who really need it and it is hoped that the increased and enhanced use of the Courts’ protective measures is an indication of how those victims and survivors of domestic abuse are now more able to access justice and protection.

For more information on how Family Law in Partnership can help you if you are faced with domestic abuse, please visit our website page Abuse in Relationships below or contact director Helen Greenfield who focuses on this area of law on T: 020 7420 5000 or by email at hg@flip.co.uk