Last week, The Law Society criticised the government’s new guidance on domestic violence injunctions during the COVID-19 crisis, echoing the complaints made on this website on 6 April (post reproduced below). A day later, on 9 April, the government updated its guidance on injunctions, along with the guidance document Evidence Requirements for Private Family Law Matters.
Today, The Law Society welcomed the changes to the domestic violence evidence requirements guidance, but claimed that they do not go far enough. They are calling for solicitors to be given the power to certify that an individual is a victim of domestic abuse during the crisis. The Law Society’s statement on the matter is contained in the box below.
|Changes to the ‘domestic violence gateway’ for legal aid
The Legal Aid Agency (LAA) has expanded how domestic violence requirements may be evidenced to make it easier for victims of domestic and child abuse to access legal aid during this difficult period.
The following changes will apply to the guidance in relation to evidence of both domestic violence and child abuse:
We welcome these changes but feel they do not go far enough. We’re continuing to make the case to government that solicitors should be able to certify that an individual is a victim of domestic abuse during the crisis.
Legal Aid Handbook post from 6 April:
On 3 April 2020, the government issued the guidance ‘Applying for a domestic violence (Family Law Act) injunction for unrepresented applicants’.
These are the steps:
- Fill in an application form to apply for a Family Law Act injunction.
- You will also need to provide a signed witness statement with your name and date, and include a statement of truth.
- If you don’t want the respondent to know your contact details, you must also fill in form C8 and the court must have contact details for both you and the respondent in order to set up a telephone or video hearing.
- Please check whether your local family court is open. If your local court is currently closed, contact the nearest open or staffed court. Telephone and email contact details can be found on court and tribunal finder by entering your post code.
- The court will contact you with hearing arrangements, by email if you have an email address.
- Most injunction hearings will take place by telephone. Court staff will arrange a telephone conference and notify you and the respondent, unless the hearing is without notice to the respondent. In some circumstances, the judge may make an order on paper without a hearing. If you are unable to make a telephone or video hearing, for example, because the respondent is in the same property, include this information in your email to the court.
- The court will also arrange for the injunction application and any order made to be delivered to the respondent.
Practitioners have raised serious concerns about the proposals.
Jenny Beck of Beck Fitzgerald, co-chair of LAPG, a member of The Law Society Family and Access to Justice committees, and a family law expert said:
This is of little help, I’m afraid. Victims should be put in the position where they can make one call/email to a properly funded support organisation that can help them for free. Making that single call will be hard enough for many.
The numbers murdered by a partner or ex-partner are set to rise dramatically. Already they have doubled from two women murdered every week to four during lockdown. China saw a threefold increase in domestic abuse.
The current response from the government appears to be one of acceptance that this is an inevitability, rather than of prevention.
The guidance just sets out the current process, with the additional burden of navigating a telephone hearing. There is no recognition of the way that trauma and terror collude to make even a straightforward process complex, let alone this one.
Ringfenced funding should be set aside for frontline support organisations to act quickly and refer cases to lawyers to do all the admin, prep and hearings on a non-means-tested basis for this emergency period.
I’m absolutely terrified about the likely consequences for women and children unless we have a properly funded and co-ordinated approach to protection. The abuse is happening right now, today. The response needs to be effective and immediate.
Cris McCurley of Ben Hoare Bell, a member of the UN/CEDAW Shadow report writing working party, a member of The Law Society Access to Justice committee, and a family law expert said:
A letter has been sent to the Home Secretary and Prime Minister by the Women’s Resource Centre seeking adequate ring-fenced funding to cope with what it a well-acknowledged rise in not only domestic abuse, but femicide. At a time when victims will feel most alone, advising to do-it-yourself is not a credible option. What about the women for whom English is not their first language, or women with disabilities?
Alison Lamb, CEO of RCJ Advice which delivers FLOWS in partnership with Rights of Women and over 65 domestic abuse-accredited legal aid providers, hopes women will use CourtNav FL401, which offers both advice and guidance when completing injunction applications, and links with a legal aid provider with a track record of domestic abuse work.
Carol Storer, interim director of Legal Action Group said:
The government must do so much better than this. Anyone thinking of taking any step in this situation would find it hard to navigate this procedure.