The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on society and on the lives of individuals is far reaching. We are now coming to terms with the “stay at home” policy which constrains our ability to move freely to the general limited purposes of daily exercise, obtaining medical assistance, the purchase of basic necessities and engaging in “essential” work.
However, the unfortunate reality for some is that home is far from a safe place at any time. Whilst for many citizens the current challenges include accommodating remote working and home educating children, for others social distancing means greater exposure to the risk of domestic abuse. Whilst regulation 8(5)(m) of the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 clarifies that an exception to the rule requiring people to stay at home is where an individual is avoiding injury, illness or escaping a risk of harm, many domestic abuse victims will still feel trapped at home.
Experts are concerned that there will be a significant rise in domestic abuse cases during the COVID-19 pandemic as a consequence of families being forced to remain in their homes in challenging social and economic conditions. Indeed, the Justice Secretary raised such concerns in the House of Commons. Statistics from China appear to indicate a threefold increase in incidents of domestic abuse in February 2020 when compared to February 2019.
The current situation is putting an intense strain on individuals, who may be faced with loss of employment, which can bring with it feelings of boredom and self-worthlessness. Tensions in many family homes may rise and, in some circumstances, could lead to incidents of domestic abuse. Given the known correlation between alcohol and drug misuse to domestic violence, it is of concern that the current social pressures may give rise to an increase in self-medication of this sort.
The lockdown restrictions may in some cases exacerbate the risks for those already enduring coercive control within their relationships, given that isolation and restrictions on the freedom of victims are the common tools of perpetrators of such abuse. There is also a concern that social distancing will restrict our ability to spot signs of domestic abuse in our communities. Victims are no longer routinely attending at their GP surgery, dropping children off at nursery or school, visiting family and friends nor, in many cases, attending at places of work.
In the coming weeks, there will be an increased demand on the police service. Victims of domestic abuse are already finding that many of the services usually available to them, including domestic abuse refuges, have been cut back or suspended. In the current climate, some victims of domestic abuse may feel their options are severely restricted. Staying with family and friends may no longer be an option, nor might there be the option of securing a place in refuge accommodation. There are, however, still options available to victims of domestic abuse to protect themselves and their children, even in the midst of social isolation and distancing. Family lawyers continue to be available to support and assist victims of domestic abuse.
Although, understandably, courts throughout the UK are limiting those cases which will be heard, victims of domestic abuse in Scotland can still to apply to the court for exclusion orders suspending the right of their spouse, civil partner or (in certain circumstances) cohabitant from the family home. There are other orders that can be sought to protect the victim from future abuse including interdicts and non-harassment orders (with powers of arrest). If a real urgency can be established, it may still be possible to obtain orders from the court securing payment of aliment where the parties are married or in a civil partnership to protect financial stability. Whilst the courts in Scotland have drastically restricted the types of cases actively proceeding through court at the present time, they will continue to consider cases of particular urgency, including protective orders for victims of domestic abuse.
Even without the restrictions imposed by social distancing, seeking legal advice can be difficult for victims of domestic abuse. It is recognised that the current “lockdown” conditions curtail personal freedoms and limit yet further the opportunity for those already suffering in controlling relationships to leave home or conduct private telephone conversations. However, we can support and help clients whatever their circumstances. Meetings and communication can be facilitated by telephone, email, Skype and Zoom.
Brodies LLP has a team of Family Law solicitors with experience in providing advice on domestic abuse as it relates to family law. Should you wish specialist legal advice, please do not hesitate to contact one of our key contacts, Garry Sturrock, by email on email@example.com or by telephone on 01224 392278. Alternatively, you can contact any other member of our team in offices throughout Scotland by accessing their profile on our dedicated Divorce and Family Law page at https://brodies.com/divorce-and-family-law/.