Domestic abuse and the COVID-19 lockdown

Article by Emma Weaver

The world is currently in the midst of a pandemic and many countries have taken steps to try and reduce the spread of COVID-19. The UK has similarly followed suit when the Prime Minister announced a minimum 3-week lockdown commencing 23rd March 2020. Those who are deemed to be in the vulnerable category should have already been self-isolating and are expected to self-isolate for 12 weeks. Effectively, those who are not key workers or can work from home are expected to remain in their homes for the duration of the lockdown. There are some exceptions to this such as one form of exercise per day.

How does this affect those who are victims of domestic abuse?

Prior to the UK being placed in lockdown many other countries had already taken this step and there are worldwide reports that the number of domestic abuse incidents have increased. For example, it is reported that this had increased threefold in one county in China. Unfortunately, the UK is no exception to these statistics with a number of police forces already reporting an increase in domestic abuse incidents.

Those who are the victims of domestic abuse will no doubt feel trapped in their own home. There may have been some respite for the victims if the perpetrator worked outside of the home. However, where the perpetrator now has the ability to work from home, the victim will constantly be faced with their abuser.

What can be done to protect victims of domestic abuse during the lockdown?

The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has stated that victims of domestic abuse can leave their homes to seek refuge and/or report domestic abuse; this will not be deemed a breach of the current lockdown rules. It is reported that refuges remain open in these uncertain times to provide help and shelter to victims as does The National Domestic Abuse Helpline.

Furthermore, a number of courts remain open or staffed to enable victims to make applications to the court. Where a victim’s local court centre is not open, advice should be sought from the court before making an application. Victims can therefore, continue to apply for a non-molestation order and/or an occupation order. This can be done in person (where the facilities remain available) or via email. Such applications are currently defined as urgent. Accordingly, the courts will continue to deal with them, if the particular court centre is open or staffed. This will also include the return hearing. However, it should be noted that the courts have always been wary in making an occupation order where the respondent does not have notice of the application.

In line with the President of the Family Division’s Guidance published on 19th March 2020, (The President’s Guidance can be found here) all hearings are expected to be dealt with remotely including urgent hearings. Where this is not possible, the court will endeavour to list a ‘face-to-face’ hearing. Remote hearings may cause some litigants in person difficulties in they do not have the technology required to conduct these hearings or do not know how to use said technology. Face-to-face hearings may also put those in the vulnerable category at risk, if they have to leave their home to attend a hearing.

A number of firms of solicitors also remain open as they are able to work remotely. This enables victims to seek legal advice on what they can do to protect themselves from domestic abuse. The police are of course available for the victim’s immediate protection, if necessary.

What can Halcyon Chambers do to help?

The family team have a number of years’ experience between them in domestic abuse cases and approach such cases with the sensitivity that is required whilst taking a robust approach in the court to ensure that the best outcome for the client is achieved. The members of the family team are available to take instructions from both solicitors and from the client directly (for those who undertake direct access work) during the ongoing pandemic. The pandemic should not be a bar to the delivery of justice.

Brexit – an interference with family life?

Article by Jonathan Bott

With the date for Brexit put off to another unknown date, one might think that the substantive effect of the UK leaving the European Union is yet to be felt. However, following A v A (2019), a recent unreported case where the father was represented by Suzanne Hodgkiss, Jonathan Bott and Emma Weaver, the spectre of Brexit is already raising a number of issues relevant in family matters.

In A v A, the father was a Pakistani national, who was living in the UK as a spouse of the mother, a Polish national. The father had received permission to remain as a result of the mother’s status, however, the mother- having been resident in the UK- had declined to apply for ‘Settled Status’ under the new UK regulations for EU nationals. This led to the mother wishing to return to Poland and arguing that she did not have the right to remain in the UK, which would affect the father’s contact with his child.

The court took the view that it should not attempt to force the mother to remain in the UK, when she did not have the right to do so, albeit she could have applied for Settled Status.

The difficulty this case highlights is where EU citizens have previously had a right to work and live in the UK, but as a result of the UK’s changing status, no longer have such a right and thereafter the effect upon family dynamics including contact with a non-resident parent.

Of course, the right to remain is just one element of post-Brexit uncertainty, there are many other issues in Family Law which will cause the courts to ponder, not least the doctrine of proportionality (which has its roots in EU, not UK law) and the confusion that is likely to reign if the relatively clear position under Brussels IIR about interstate recognition and enforcement of orders is swept aside. We will await further developments!

With a nationally renowned public law team (including Ramby De Mello and ‘Immigration Lawyer of the Year 2019’, Tony Muman) combined with a specialist family law team with experience of international child and family issues, Halcyon Chambers are alive to the many issues facing the courts following the UK leaving the EU and are ready to steer families through the choppy waters of post-Brexit legislation.

SMBC v Z

Article by Jonathan Bott

Jonathan Bott has successfully obtained findings on behalf of Sandwell MBC in a case involving serious assault, child cruelty and international forced marriage.

The respondent parents, both Afghani nationals, had assaulted their 4 children on numerous occasions including whipping one child with wire and beating their children with various implements.

Following a week long contested case, HHJ Hughes – sitting in Wolverhampton – determined that all findings sought were made out and that there should be final care orders in respect of the children. The matter has now been referred to Birmingham Family Court, as a designated Forced Marriage Protection court under the Family Law Act 1996, in order for Forced Marriage Protection Orders to made in respect of all the children.