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Family Solicitors

Domestic Abuse - An Urgent Public Concern (22 December 2021)

Date: 22/12/2021
Duncan Lewis, Family Solicitors, Domestic Abuse - An Urgent Public Concern

The rising cases of domestic abuse in the UK cannot be seen as an issue to be addressed in private, rather it is a matter of great public concern. While statutory change has cemented the common law position as well as aligning with some change in public perception, the glacial rate at which these issues are being addressed is dangerous for those subject to this abuse. The victims and vulnerable individuals involved face the possibility of ever escalating abuse during the holiday period, exacerbated by the recent ‘stay at home order’ and the looming prospect of another national lockdown.

Covid-19 lockdowns have and will continue to force the population inside their homes, and for victims this generally means being unable to escape from their abuser. Between April 2020 and February 2021, the average number of monthly calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline increased by 60% from the start of 20201, illustrating the extent of the crisis and the impact of the pandemic. Not only were there more reports and referrals, but there was an increase in the severity of abuse experienced by victims with sixteen domestic abuse killings in the first three weeks of the initial lockdown – the highest for at least 11 years2.

Not only was there this increased time together, but the economic and social strain of being isolated to a household added to the pressures facing families and conflict therein. Decreased interactions meant fewer opportunities to communicate about or recognise signs of abuse in others. The shift to online communications meant domestic abuse services had to quickly adapt to new channels of communication and new methods of providing support. There was consequently a sharp increase in the number of women being mistreated during the first three lockdowns, with two thirds of victims reporting that this time was used by perpetrators to further abuse3. The recent government guidance asking people to work from home and the holiday period4 combined reintroduces dangerous possibilities.

It is therefore fundamental that people are aware of what exact constitutes domestic abuse. The Domestic Abuse Act 20215 created a statutory definition of ‘domestic abuse’ encompassing the different behaviours recognised as coming under this umbrella term, going beyond physical violence to include emotional or economic abuse, and controlling and coercive behaviour such as gaslighting. These behaviours are also outlined in Part 12J of the Family Procedure Rules6.

These changes transferred years of case law and guidance to statute, but there is a danger it may continue to fall on deaf ears. Many still regard domestic abuse as primarily physical and yet this could not be further from the truth. Many suffer abuse which does not manifest itself as violence, but involves coercion and restrictions such as isolating victims from family and friends, as well as destroying confidence and self-esteem through verbal attacks. When considering who may be suffering in an abusive relationship and recognising signs of abuse, it must be remembered that abuse is non-discriminatory and can affect anyone. Though victims are primarily female (74% of victims in domestic abuse-related crimes), 3.6% of men also suffered some form of domestic abuse in the year prior to March 2020. This abuse can also occur irrespective of age, sexuality, disability and ethnicity, though some of these characteristics can make it harder for victims to seek support.

For those that are suffering, the law is able to offer some forms of protection, for example through enhanced civil orders, such as a Non-Molestation Order. This can prevent a perpetrator from getting into contact with the victim or being within a certain distance from them by making it an offence to do so. Alternatively, if a victim has property interests (eg. a tenancy agreement in your name) then they can seek an Occupation Order to exclude their abuser from the home.

If you think you are a victim but you have children with your perpetrator, you may be entitled to legal aid, this will allow you funding for any proceedings over care for or contact with the children. There are also legal orders to protect victims who are parents. For example, a Child Arrangements Order can ensure that your child remains in your care and residing with you. In cases of alleged and proven domestic abuse, Judges follow the suggestions of Practice Direction 12J which sets out that any children subject to a Child Arrangement Order are protected from abuse; any alleged or admitted abuse shall be considered in the proceedings. The Court must be satisfied that any contact ordered with a parent who has perpetrated abuse does not expose the child or other parent to a risk of harm. There are also numerous ways of protecting an abuse victim throughout proceedings, for example through the use of screens in court or through the use of separate entrances and exits.

The evidentiary difficulties involved with some of the non-physical forms of abuse can act as significant barriers, as can immigration status and associated challenges7. This goes alongside the challenge of securing legal aid funding in relation to private law family proceedings, the difficulty of which has been alleged to be a breach of human rights8. In practical services, refuge space increased significantly in light of the emergency funding provided by the government during the pandemic, but there are now calls for these spaces to be made sustainable and accessible to all9 and including those with children. Whilst there has been progress in relation to the legal protection of domestic abuse victims, there is still a way to go. Any reform must be underpinned by effective support services, particularly during these unprecedented times and challenges which are leaving those most vulnerable at greater risk.

Duncan Lewis Solicitors is the largest legal aid firm in England and Wales and is able to provide family and child care-related legal help for any public matter; this includes help with the acquisition of Child Arrangement Orders, Non-Molestation Orders, and Prohibited Steps Orders. We also provide private client work for child care proceedings not covered by legal aid.

If at any point you need legal help or information please visit our website or contact us on 033 3772 0409.

Other sources of support and information:

Women’s Aid 


For women 

Refuge – The Freephone 
National Domestic Abuse Helpline 

0808 2000 247 

24/7 Helpline for women 


0800 999 5428

For those who identify as

Karma Nirvana 

0800 5999 247 

For support regarding forced marriage and honour crimes 


0182 3334 244 

For men 

Men’s Advice Line 

0808 8010 327

For men 

Please also see the following websites for information and more support services:


1 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-56491643
2 https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/domestic-abuse-and-covid-19-a-year-into-the-pandemic/
3 https://metro.co.uk/2020/12/25/christmas-lockdown-is-prime-time-for-domestic-abuse-13801023/
4 https://metro.co.uk/2020/12/25/christmas-lockdown-is-prime-time-for-domestic-abuse-13801023/
5 https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2021/17/contents/enacted
6 https://www.justice.gov.uk/courts/procedure-rules/family/practice_directions/pd_part_12j
7 https://www.womensaid.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/Domestic-Abuse-Report-2022-Early-Release.pdf
8 Choudhry and Herring, ‘A human right to legal aid? – The implications of changes to the legal aid scheme for victims of domestic abuse’ (2017) JSWFL 152
9 https://www.womensaid.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/Domestic-Abuse-Report-2022-Early-Release.pdf

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