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25.09.2019

Domestic Violence Killings at a Five year High

Written by Rosita Mendonca

Last year, 173 people were killed in domestic violence related homicides, an increase of 32 deaths on 2017, according to data obtained by the BBC from 43 police forces across the UK. This figure has steadily increased from 2014.

Domestic violence homicides are not just committed by a partner or spouse, they can also be committed by family members such as parents, brothers and sisters. Whilst acknowledging that men can be victims, the BBC states that the vast majority are women, and refer to the Office for National Statistics data for domestic abuse in England and Wales for the year to March 2018, which indicates that between April 2014 and March 2017, around three-quarters of victims of domestic killings by a partner, ex-partner or family member were women.

Efforts are being made by Government to tackle the ever growing issues of domestic violence and with the introduction of the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme and Claire’s Law, which sees people being able to check the background of their partner should they suspect may have a history of domestic violence, is a step closer in trying to protect individuals against domestic violence. Despite this, homicide as a result of domestic violence continues to grow.

The Government have hired Nicole Jacobs from Standing Together Against Domestic Violence as the Domestic Abuse Commissioner to spearhead the £69b campaign to tackle the problem. It is hoped this campaign will see the number of victims and homicides of domestic and sexual violence reduce significantly.

At National Legal Service Solicitors, we have a team of accredited solicitors that include specialists in domestic abuse cases who can help obtain court orders on an emergency basis. For more information, please call us on 0203 601 5051

16.09.2019

Domestic Abuse Bill to be reintroduced following prorogation of Parliament

Written by Rosita Mendonca

The Prime Minister took to twitter to confirm that the government was ‘fully committed’ to reintroducing new legislation to protect victims of domestic abuse following concerns it had been axed as a result of Parliament’s suspension last week.

Prorogation will suspend all existing bills making their way through Parliament, unless the government chooses to carry them over to the next session beginning on 14 October. When Parliament returns on this date, although any dropped bills can be re-introduced, all progress made is lost and the process must start from scratch.

The government chose to carry over three pieces of legislation, dropping both the Domestic Abuse Bill and the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill (which aimed to bring in a system of no-fault divorce). The Domestic Abuse Bill included the introduction of the first statutory definition of domestic abuse (including both financial and non-physical behaviour), the prohibition on perpetrators of abuse from cross-examining their victims in person in family courts and the introduction of a new Domestic Abuse Protection Notice and Domestic Abuse Protection Order.

Women’s rights groups including Women’s Aid, Imkaan and the Centre for Women’s Justice wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister, urging him to ensure the Bill remains ‘a priority’ for the government’s next session. ‘Whatever happens next, the Prime Minister must confirm that protecting the rights and safety of survivors is a priority,’ said Nicki Norman, acting co-chief executive of Women’s Aid. ‘Over two years, thousands of survivors have bravely shared their experiences of domestic abuse with the government and fought to improve support for women and children. They must not be betrayed.’

02.09.2019

Financial Abuse is Domestic Abuse

Written by Rosita Mendonca

Like all forms of domestic abuse at the centre of it is usually one person exercising control over another. Abuse can take many forms- emotional, physical, psychological and financial. Financial abuse (or economic abuse) is an aspect of  ‘coercive control’, which is a pattern of controlling, degrading and/or threatening conduct which takes away the victim’s freedom. Financial abuse is one of the most frequent ways that perpetrators exercise a significant level of control over their partners and enables them to be able to restrict their partner’s movements and keep tabs on their lives. Often victims do not have the financial knowledge or means to be able to support themselves and their children independently- as a result, people feel there is no alternative but to remain in an abusive relationship.

Almost a fifth of adults in the UK have been a victim of financial abuse in a current or past relationship. This rarely occurs in isolation – 8 out of 10 people had also been victims of other forms of abuse in their relationship.

 

These were findings of a joint campaign conducted in 2015 with The Co-operative Bank and Refuge, the national domestic violence charity, which aimed to raise awareness of the scale of the issue of financial abuse.  Key findings from this study also include:-

  • 60% of all cases are reported by women although victims spanned all gender, age and income groups.
  • A third of financial abuse victims suffer in silence, telling no-one
  • 78% of women & 23% of men said their abuse went on over five years
  • For women reporting experience of the problem, the abuse tended to start at key life stages: 71% said it was when they moved in with a partner, 75% said it was when they got married, and 30% when they had children. Among men the figures were 28%, 25% and 30% respectively.

 

Escaping financial abuse

If you are being subjected to financial abuse, you may be apply for a Non-Molestation Order and/or an Occupation Order.  A Non-Molestation Order is used not only to protect you from actual or threatened physical violence but also form wider forms of abuse, such as financial abuse where it is having a significant impact on your emotional well being. (You will need to see if you satisfy a legal test around the association of you to the alleged perpetrator as well as evidencing that the abuse is causing you significant harm).  Depending on the seriousness of your situation, you may be able to apply for a non molestation order without notice to the alleged perpetrator.  However, there will most likely be a second hearing listed on notice so the other party is then able to attend court to say whether they contest the order).

An Occupation Order gives you the right to remain in your home and can restrict your abuser from entering it. It can also define the areas that can be occupied if you need to both continue residing in the property. You need to understand whether you have a legal right to be in the property before considering if you are able to apply for an Occupation Order.  This type of order can be crucial for a victim of economic abuse because they usually do not have access to the money they need to move away from their abuser.

As with applications for Non-Molestation Orders, Occupation Orders can be made ex-parte, which means you will appear before a judge without your abuser being present.  Any order granted ex-parte is only temporary, a full hearing must take place at a later date.  However, the making of an occupation order ex parte requires strong evidence as to the justifications for such an order.  There is a list of considerations you will have to address in your evidence to demonstrate how the balance for the making of this type of order should fall in your favour.

Breaching a Non-Molestation Order is a criminal offence and can result in a fine and/or up to five years in prison.  Although breaching and Occupation Order is not a criminal offence; a power to arrest can be attached to the order by the court.

 

Funding for your financial abuse matter

It may be possible to obtain legal aid for non-molestation orders and occupation orders and we are happy to have assessment interviews with you via telephone to see if you would meet the eligibility criteria and to discuss what evidence you would need to obtain to meet the eligibility criteria.

 

Protection against financial abuse 

If you are concerned that someone is financially abusing you or are worried for a relative or friend, the Money Advice Service offers help on financial abuse and other financial issues.

National Legal Service Solicitors have significant experience representing people in divorce proceedings involving domestic abuse.  For confidential information, please call our office on 020 3601 5051.

11.06.2019

Men Are Victims of Domestic Abuse Too!

Written by Rosita Mendonca

While the overwhelming assumption is that domestic abuse victims are female, research from Mankind Initiative highlights some concerning statistics:

  • For every three victims of domestic abuse in the UK, one will be male
  • 13% of men (aged 16 – 59 years old) have suffered a form of domestic abuse since the age of 16
  • In 2017/18, 4.2% of men (approximately 695,000) experienced domestic abuse
  • One in every five victims of forced marriage is a man
  • In 2017/18, 7 men died at the hands of their partner or ex-partner

Owing to regressive ideas of what abuse looks like, male victims of domestic abuse find it harder to access help. Nearly half of male victims fail to tell anyone they are a victim of domestic (only 51% tell anyone). They are nearly three times less likely to tell anyone than a female victim (49% as opposed to 19%).

National Legal Service Solicitors has helped more than 3,000 victims of domestic abuse in the last year. We feel strongly that each victim should be seen as an individual and helped accordingly irrespective of their gender.

Positive Steps Undertaken

In September 2017, The Crown Prosecution Service published its first ever public statement recognising the needs and experiences of male victims of offences including rape, domestic abuse, harassment, stalking and child sexual abuse. The CPS statement covers

  • Plans to give prosecutors more information, to help them better understand the experiences of male victims and the barriers to them reporting offences;
  • A commitment to work with third sector organisations and campaign groups to challenge gender stereotypes and improve reporting;
  • Proposals to involve more national men’s groups, as well as groups working with boys and girls, in the scrutiny of CPS policies.

Head of Family, Ms Kirsty Richards comments,

Over the years I have assisted many male victims of domestic abuse and it is my experience that despite there being lots of positive campaigning around domestic abuse, there can remain a prejudice in the court arena.  This was more so around 10-12 years ago, when I remember vividly, that I was helping a male victim to obtain a non molestation order and there were linked children act proceedings wherein we were trying to keep the child of the family safe from the mother’s abuse.  Despite clear photographic evidence of injuries to the male victim and supporting statements from doctors and teachers, the Judge that heard the case did not accept the risks posed by the mother to my client or the child.  In fact, a comment was that the mother’s outburst were as a result of her “latino temperament”,  a comment that haunted me for some time as what flowed was that the father went from being primary carer of the couple’s child, to the Judge changing the arrangements on the ground, giving the mother the majority time each week, and my client went from being primary carer for 5 years, to having an order detailing the 3 nights a week he would care for the child.

That was one of the most extreme cases I have ever dealt with and I have continued to do all I can to assist male victims whenever they have approached me but I have continued to face difficulties.  Even securing legal aid can be troublesome if you have a male victim (the “true applicant”) but the respondent issues cross applications and makes representations about your funding.  Again, photographs of injuries had to be sent as justification and that case was another example where there was disbelief that a woman of relatively small stature could cause the violence and injuries alleged in my client’s witness statements.  We need to continue giving male victims a voice and we need to educate everyone that domestic abuse can be committed by women.  The law is there to protect the victim, we have to have our eyes open to who the true victim is when we are dealing with this area of law.

Help is out there

  • You can call the ManKind Initiative helpline for support on 01823 334244
  • You can also call the Men’s Advice Line for confidential help, information, advice and support on 0808 801 0327
  • If you are in immediate danger, please call 999
  • Contact a member of our legal team  on 0203 601 5051 if you feel you need protection from domestic abuse

 

01.03.2019

The Draft Domestic Abuse Bill & How it Proposes to Protect Victims of Abuse

Written by Zeeshan Abid

Domestic abuse can go unidentified by families, friends, and even victims themselves. Some victims fail to comprehend they were subjected to abuse, controlling and coercive behaviour until it is too late and can have a devastating impact on families, particularly young children.

The draft Domestic Abuse Bill was recently published, as it is revealed domestic abuse issues cost England and Wales approximately £66 billion a year during 2016/2017. It was projected approximately two million adults are subjected to domestic abuse each year and so warrants some of the strongest measures to prevent offenders and safeguard victims. However, is the draft Bill feasible within family courts? Does it safeguard children whom have suffered domestic abuse?

The purpose of the draft Bill is to deliver adequate protection for victims of domestic abuse and bring perpetrators to justice and to provide further guidance in relation to the following provisions:

  • The statutory definition of domestic abuse – this will allow everyone to comprehend what constitutes abuse and more importantly encourage victims to come forward
  • Creation of a Domestic Abuse Commissioner
  • Introduction of Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders (DAPOs) to safeguard victims and provide limitations on the actions of offenders
  • Prohibit litigants in person within family proceedings from cross-examining victims of domestic abuse and allowing courts the discretion to instruct a legal representative to conduct cross-examinations on their behalf
  • Provide eligibility for special measures to support victims to present evidence within the criminal courts

    As part of the new Domestic Abuse bill, the government will redefine what abuse is. Lay persons will commonly assume domestic abuse is limited to a specific incident. In recent years, the government formally recognised ‘coercive control’. However, the draft Bill includes ‘economic abuse’ as a recognised form of domestic abuse. This will include control of bank accounts and money.

Protection orders are an important instrument for keeping victims safeguarded and preventing the continuation and/or escalation of abuse. Currently, the Domestic Violence Protection Order (DVPO) aims to protect victims of domestic abuse.

However, the inconsistent Domestic Violence Protection Order will now be replaced by the Domestic Abuse Protection Orders (“DAPO”). The court may enforce requirements to safeguard victims from domestic abuse without any limitations on the Order. It may also comprise requirements, such as, orders to attend parenting courses, perpetrator programmes or substance misuse programmes, in addition to, prohibiting contact between the parties.

More significantly, an application for a DAPO is not limited to the person associated to the perpetrator. This major amendment allows local authorities, probation services or other support workers to obtain a DAPO as such this broadens the scope for those whom are seeking to apply for protection under the family justice system and may limit the risk of further harm attributable from the perpetrator.

The practice of perpetrators currently cross-examining victims causes a significant risk of further controlling and manipulate behaviour. In some cases, victims do not wish to pursue an application for protection due to the risk of further mental harm as a result of the current justice system.

The draft Bill is determined in its effort to provide security to victims of domestic abuse and amalgamate the family and criminal justice system. The government’s set of proposals are welcomed, particularly putting a focus on perpetrator’s culpability and putting families at the forefront. However, the practice of judges cross-examining witnesses on behalf of a party is also questionable in respect of judicial independence and upholding the rule of law.

For many years, victims and their families were expected to be uprooted whist perpetrators would remain unchallenged. However, the new draft Bill has developed significant and meaningful changes to help better support victims of domestic abuse and will allocate funding to support children.

What happens next?

The Domestic Abuse Bill will be scrutinised by a joint committee of both Houses of Parliament, highlighting any amendments that need to be made. After this, it will continue through the House of Commons and the House of Lords before being passed for Royal Assent. Hopefully, the Bill is enacted as a matter of urgency, as this is an issue that cannot afford to wait.

24.01.2019

Domestic Abuse & Eligibility for Legal Aid

Written by Ammarah Balouch

Legal Aid is available for victims of Domestic Abuse who satisfy the legal aid financial eligibility tests (usually those that are on low income or receiving income-based benefits). Your capital and savings, including the value of your home, will also be taken into account but the usual income and capital limits are waived (which means you could still be eligible although subject to paying a monthly contribution). All the financial information you give to us has to be supported by up to date proof.

In order for us to determine f you are eligible for legal aid, it is essential that you provide us with:

  • Your national insurance number

  • An estimate of the value of all your capital assets, including the value of your home and any other properties

  • A bank statement covering the last 3 months for all your bank accounts- including Savings accounts, ISA’s , Child Saving accounts

  • If you are employed, proof of your income via payslips covering the last 3 months if you are paid monthly, or covering the last 6 weeks if you are paid weekly

  • If you are self-employed, your most recent accounts and  tax returns.

  • If you are  in receipt of benefits or tax credits, a current letter (dated within the last six months) confirming your entitlement.

If you decide to make an application to court on a family matter concerning children or finances, Legal Aid will only be available if you can demonstrate:

  • You have been a victim of or at risk or domestic violence

  • The child who is the subject of the order is at risk of abuse from someone other than you.

In either case, allegations alone are insufficient and you have to provide evidence that you meet the criteria. You can find a list of the evidence accepted for domestic violence and when a child is at risk of abuse on the Ministry of Justice website.

To assess your capital, we will apply standard disregards for mortgage and equity, and if the remaining capital meets current criteria you will eligible .

To assess your income, we  will take into account income tax and NI payments, mortgage or rent, standard allowances for dependents living with you, child care and maintenance payments.

If the amount remaining meets current criteria, you will be eligible. To fully qualify for Legal Aid, you must be eligible on both capital and income grounds, it is possible that you may partially qualify for legal aid whereby they will pay a part of the legal costs, but you may be asked to pay a contribution. 

18.05.2018

14th to 20th May Is Mental Health Awareness Week 2018

Written by Rosita Mendonca

This year the focus for Mental Health Awareness Week (14-20 May) is stress. Research has shown that two thirds of us experience a mental health problem in our lifetimes, and stress is a key factor in this. By tackling stress, we can go a long way to tackle mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, and, in some instances, self-harm and suicide.

At the National Legal Service we are aware that stress and poor mental health can have a major effect on people. As a firm that specialises in family law we often deal with clients who are going through a difficult time. A lot of our work consists of supporting victims of domestic violence and we do our best to support them through what is a stressful process.

In turn, we support our own employees who are constantly faced with cases that are complex and involve clients that are vulnerable.  We have a relaxed atmosphere where by the staff feel as though they can speak to one another on their teams regarding any difficulties they may have with their cases. We are also aware that all staff have a life of their own outside of work and that can add to the elements of stress that can impact work life.

Mental health to us is equally as important as physical health and it is vital that we focus on the well-being of our staff and our clients. We ensure that everyone in our team knows that they have a part to play at the making the workplace a positive one.

In the future, we hope to put in to place coffee mornings and other activities whereby the staff can take a break and just engage with one another.  We hope that this will lead to building stronger relationships at work so that as a firm we can support each other better to stay physically and mentally well.

 

09.05.2018

Perpetrators of domestic abuse could be electronically tagged under new proposals of a draft bill

Written by Rosita Mendonca

It is appalling that in 21st-Century Britain, nearly two million people every year – the majority of them women – suffer abuse at the hands of those closest to them.

The government has set out new proposals to tackle the way that perpetrators of domestic abuse are dealt with in the UK. Perpetrators could be electronically tagged under government proposals for England and Wales and could be required to attend parenting programmers or drug and alcohol treatment to hopefully reduce the risk of them carrying out further abuse.

Prime Minister Theresa May said the bill could “completely transform the way we tackle domestic abuse” by providing better protection to victims and bringing more perpetrators to justice.

She added “we know that domestic abuse affects those from all walks of life. Victims can be young and old, male and female, and I hope as many people as possible will come forward to give us their views and share their experiences, as we seek to put an end to this abhorrent crime for good.”

Currently thousands of domestic abuse victims are unable to access a service due to lack of available spaces in refuge centers.  Research conducted by Women’s Aid shows 94 women and 90 children fleeing from domestic abuse were turned away from refuges on one day in England in 2017.

For the first time, Courts will be given express powers to impose electronic monitoring as a condition of the proposed domestic abuse protection orders (DAPOs). Under these recommended plans, any perpetrator who is found breaching the conditions of any DAPOs can be punishable as a criminal offence. The Domestic Abuse Bill could be a unique opportunity to make a real, long term difference in survivor’s lives that is sustainable. A government consultation on the recommended plans has stated that tagging should be alongside other conditions such as an exclusion zone, in order to monitor perpetrators in circumstances where it would be necessary and proportionate to prevent further abuse from occurring.

Kirsty Richards, head of family and childcare at the National Legal service states:

“Any changes to the law surrounding the issue of domestic abuse that goes towards offering stronger protection for victims and tougher restrictions on perpetrators can only be a good thing.  The more we continue to talk about domestic violence, its impact on victims and the children of victims; the better the understanding we all have in how devastating domestic abuse can be.  We need to continue the momentum that is in place in respect of how we can, as a country, do our best to help victims live safely as well as offering training & support for perpetrators to try and change their destructive behaviors.”

The proposed Bill will aim to include a new statutory definition of abuse and Economic abuse will be recognised for the first time as a type of domestic making it a punishable offence to force someone to take out loans, withholding access to wages or bank account, food, clothing and transport.

Other measures being weighed up for inclusion in the new bill include:

* The creation in law of an independent domestic abuse commissioner;

* Tougher sentences for domestic abuse that affects children;

* Enshrining in legislation the scheme known as Clare’s Law, under which police can disclose information about previous violent offending by a new or existing partner; and

*Giving domestic abuse victims the same status in court as those who have suffered modern slavery or sex offences.

National Legal Service Family law Department

At the National Legal Service we understand that situations of domestic violence are a delicate and sensitive matter, we pride ourselves in protecting survivors of domestic violence from any further abuse. Our Solicitors and Paralegals offer a range of services to survivors of domestic violence from legal aid, private funding to Pro-bono and can advise on the best way tackle the law when it comes to domestic abuse in all its forms, including abuse between partners and spouses, same sex partners and spouses, abuse towards the elderly, parent-child abuse, abuse in cohabitation, psychological abuse and financial abuse.

For expert legal advice on domestic violence, call the National Legal Service on 02036015051

The consultation period for the draft bill will run until 31 May.

03.05.2018

The London Legal Walk 2018

Written by Rosita Mendonca

#WhyWeWalk

At the National Legal Service we believe in access to justice, therefore what a better way to support over 100 organisations in London and the South East than to take part in the London legal walk. We walk so that we can help these organisations provide more free and pro-bono legal advice.

Last year 12,000 people took on 10km for justice and raised a record breaking £800,000. This is an enormous figure and we only hope that this year we can top this.  It is the National Legal Service’s first year as an organisation taking part and we hope to do so for many years to come.

As an organisation that works heavily with survivors of domestic violence and abuse, at times we come across clients who are simply not eligible for legal aid. This means they often fall in to a grey area, of not being able to obtain government funding and not being able to financially afford to pay themselves.

Therefore, thanks to the option of free legal advice and pro-bono services, they are given another option to represent themselves in court to obtain their protective injunctions.  Without this option many of our clients  would not be able to obtain the protection they need due to limited funding or no funding at all.

The legal walk focuses on charities mainly supporting: elderly people who need support to stay living independently; women and children facing trafficking and labour exploitation; those who have been unfairly discriminated at work; homeless people and families living in terrible housing conditions as well as people living with disabilities or illnesses

Pro-bono and free legal advice is vital in the legal industry as it often focuses  on impacting those who are the most vulnerable and unprotected in society. Without more access to pro-bono and free legal advice, many people affected by the above would not be able to access justice or protection by the law as they cannot afford it.

As legal professionals it is our job to uphold what the law stands for and ensure that justice is available to all in a fair and accessible way. Therefore, on Monday 21st of May 2018 we will be walking alongside many legal professionals to raise money, support and awareness for justice and support those organisations giving free legal advice.

Please support us by donating below: https://bit.ly/2KnP3oh