Domestic abuse

Family court

If you have experienced domestic abuse, and need protection you may be able to obtain a non-molestation order "injunction" through the family courts.

However, domestic abuse is a crime and in most cases you will need to report the incident to the police first. Only if the police are not able to adequately protect you through the criminal justice system will the family courts be able to intervene.

You should also be aware you can normally only get legal aid funding if the police are not able to take action to prevent you, and a warning letter has been sent to the other person to see if the court proceedings can be avoided.

How can the family courts help?

Non-molestation orders/injunctions are available in the family courts to people who are associated to the other person, this includes where you were married, are married, live together or used to, or have children together, and applies to heterosexual and same sex relationships.

If you do not fall into one of these categories, you may be able to use the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, which your solicitor or the police will be able to advise and provide assistance.

The court can make a non-molestation order, an injunction, to protect you, and possibly any children, from the other person - the abuser. The order forbids the abuser from doing certain things, and normally prohibits the named person from using violence, harassing you, contacting you or coming within a certain distance of your home. It might also be necessary to obtain an occupation order stating that the abuser must leave the home.

The orders may have a Power of Arrest attached, which means that the abuser can be arrested if the order is disobeyed. For an injunction to be effective, you must be prepared to call the police if the other person disobeys the order.

If the injunction does not have a Power of Arrest attached, but the order is breached, you can apply back to the court to change the injunction to have a power of arrest and with possible measures taken against the abuser.

Emergency protection proceedings

The legal advisor will assess whether you can apply to the family court for an urgent order to protect you/your children.

If you are advised that you can apply for emergency protection, you will need to spend a few hours with the advisor going through what happened so that the advisor/solicitor can prepare a statement for you, apply for emergency public funding and complete the court forms.

Once this has been done, the orders can be obtained on an emergency basis, and you will have to go to court with your advisor and wait to see the judge dealing with all emergency applications that day. The hearing will be quite short, and the other person would not normally be there, but you should be prepared for a wait of a few hours. The hearing will be in private and you can ask for your address to be kept secret.

Following the hearing, the order has to be served personally on the other person, and the police will be informed.

The orders normally last for a few weeks, and the courts will then set another day for you to return to court and to hear from you and the other person. They will consider whether the order should be extended for a further period, and whether there are any issues in relation to any children.

If an urgent application to the court is not possible, the legal advisor can discuss using a warning letter which is written to the abuser stating that if there is a further incident stating that you will report the matter to the police and will seek advice from a family solicitor

Will I have to pay for legal advice?

If you receive certain benefits or are on a low income, and have little savings or other capital (such as a house) you may be eligible for free legal advice. The legal advisor will assess whether you are eligible for public funding either at the first meeting or over the telephone.

What do I need to do?

  • you should report the incident to the police straight away
  • you should seek medical attention immediately if you are injured
  • you should then contact a family solicitor (see contact list below) and ask for an urgent appointment.

Don't delay in obtaining legal advice, as this may result in not being able to obtain emergency public funding.