The reality is that domestic abuse during lockdown is reaching terrifying proportions. Murders have doubles and calls to helplines are up by over 700%. This will be the tip of the iceberg as the practical problems of lockdown with partners and children at home will mean many can’t get to the help they need.
No one should have to worry about the cost of protecting themselves and their families especially if their practical means escape are impacted by the lockdown.
We are calling on the Government to make legal representation for protection orders free during the crisis.
Whilst the government has issued guidelines for those in need of protection to help them apply for an order without representation it is simply unrealistic to think many, under lockdown will be able to apply unassisted, especially if they are in a vulnerable situation.
A client called me from her bathroom. She had about 15 minutes of privacy. She needed an order to get her violent ex out of her house. She had 2 young children at home with her. I could feel her shaking even on the phone. She couldn’t have filled in the forms, prepared a statement and spent hours on the phone to establish how and where to get her paperwork issued in an emergency. Let alone chasing the court for a hearing and then being able to take a call from a judge to self represent at the judges convenience.
Those most at risk are likely to be experiencing trauma. The idea that they have the time, space and resource to apply alone is frankly ridiculous.
Some great new initiatives such as FLOWS will help but funding to get proper representation is key from both a legal and practical perspective.
Even in circumstances where those who are at risk are able to prepare the necessary application forms accessing the actual court in an emergency is proving difficult. Many hours are spent chasing different courts across the country to see whether or not applications have been listed and where they have reached in a queue. Some are taking days if not weeks to be processed and even once granted the orders themselves are taking unacceptably long periods of time to be prepared. Those orders are not effective until they are personally served on abuser. Yesterday alone three hours of waiting time were spent on hold for just two clients.
A process that should take 24 hours from application to service of the order is taking many, many days. During this entire time the victim remains completely vulnerable. The process needs to be immediately overhauled and urgent applications need to be heard on the same or the next day.
We need to act quickly and we are calling on the government to make the necessary changes to funding and process during these extremely dangerous times.
Jenny is an award-winning family lawyer, committed to accessible justice and the rights of the individual. She is an entrepreneurial business leader, successful in creating and running high performing teams.
She is the former Chair of: Law Society’s Access to Justice Committee
The ABS and New Law Advisory Council
Current Co-chair of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group
Private Law Solicitor member – Family Justice Council