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Better access to justice for domestic abuse survivors

Domestic abuse survivors who jointly own the family home can no longer be automatically denied legal aid because they have capital.

Thanks to a High Court ruling, the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) will now have to look at individual cases when deciding who should be eligible for legal aid.

Don Bird, senior partner and head of family law at Atherton Godfrey, commented: “Although legal aid is available for domestic abuse, many cases are caught up in the strict interpretation of the rules.

“This decision will improve access to justice for far more survivors of domestic abuse. It will remove the added trauma of having to face their abuser in court without the benefit of legal support. It will also give a sense of hope for other women in the same position.”

The far-reaching consequences of the change are summed up by a survivor, who commented: “The last time I had to face him in court was horrendous. I had to speak for myself whilst he was there with a barrister. I was so nervous and scared that I was physically sick in the court room. My mum has already taken out so many loans to help me through this so hopefully she won’t have to do that anymore.

“We still have a long way to go with our legal challenges, but this ruling gives me some peace of mind. If it means that other women won’t have to face their abusers in court, that will be amazing.”

Sadly, many do not even realise they are a victim of domestic abuse. Sam Billingham suffered years of abuse and is now raising awareness of coercive control through her More Than A Bruise campaign. Sam says: “Domestic abuse doesn’t even start physically, yet people only identify themselves as a victim when they are hit. The abuse has been happening long before that point; some victims aren’t even physically abused.

“Victims are broken down psychologically, they are controlled completely, moulded and manipulated without abusers laying a finger on their victim”.

In a further development, Nicola Jacobs will become the first commissioner for domestic abuse for England and Wales  when the long-awaited Domestic Abuse Bill becomes law early next year. Nicola, who will have significant powers, commented: “Those subjected to domestic abuse have long awaited the changes outlined in the Domestic Abuse Bill. Now is the time to focus our efforts and to maintain our highest ambition to ensure safety for survivors of domestic abuse.”

The bill will bring in significant reforms, including a statutory duty on council’s in England to provide support for victims in refuges and recognising children as victims for the first time.

Anyone being subjected to emotional, physical or financial abuse, should talk to a solicitor straight away. Acting urgently will help to safeguard the victim, their family and their home.

Atherton Godfrey has an experienced family law team that can be contacted in complete confidence on 01302 320621.

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For abuse victims home is not a safe place

As we are all encouraged to stay at home and stay safe, we are seeing a world-wide increase in domestic abuse victims. For these people, home is definitely not a place of safety.

Shocking figures released by the Office of National Statistics show that domestic abuse killings rose by 160% during the UKs first three-week lockdown period. A total of 16 women died at the hands of their partner.

Lockdown guidance

Police have issued new guidance on social distancing, confirming that those seeking refuge from partners during a heated argument or fleeing violence can go to friends or family as an emergency temporary measure.

Legal aid

The Legal Aid Agency (LAA) has introduced measures to make it easier for victims of domestic abuse and child abuse to access legal aid during the lockdown:

  • No need for evidence to be submitted on headed paper
  • Additional evidence types can be submitted by email
  • Solicitors are able to confirm that police have issued a caution to the perpetrator or that they are involved in ongoing criminal proceedings relating to the abuse

The LAA says that although it welcomes the changes, there is still more that needs to be done. One such move would be to allow solicitors to be able to certify that an individual is a victim of domestic abuse.

Stacey Powney, family lawyer commented: “It’s important for victims to know that even during these exceptionally difficult times, legal support is still available, and if necessary lawyers can quickly obtain orders to protect them and their children.”

Practical support for victims

Women’s Aid has offered reassurance that all their services are running normally, despite the current situation.  Their website has a host of information, including tips on preparing to flee the home with children.

 Legal support

For confidential support and guidance from highly experienced family lawyers call 01302 320621 during office hours or email

National information and support services:

National Domestic Abuse Helpline (24 hrs) – 0808 2000 247

Galop – advice for LGBT+ victims of domestic abuse – 0800 999 5428

Mankind – support for male victims of domestic abuse – 0182 333 4244


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Help for victims of domestic abuse

Campaigners are warning that the lockdown will result in an increase in domestic abuse cases, as vulnerable people are being forced to spend all day with their abuser.

This grim news is supported by police who have confirmed that they have seen a drop in the number of calls they are receiving, confirming that victims may be suffering in silence.

It is important for anyone suffering from abuse to know the government has confirmed that victims can leave their homes during lockdown if it is to find help.

Stacey Powney, family lawyer at Atherton Godfrey, said: “Vulnerable people will feel more isolated than ever. Prior to lock down, victims may have had the opportunity to spend some time apart from their perpetrator, giving them much needed breathing space. However, many families in isolation are more at risk now than ever and unfortunately, the ‘stay at home’ rule is likely to lead to a spike in the number of abuse cases. The National Domestic Abuse Helpline reports that it has seen a 25% increase in calls and online requests since the lockdown began. It is important to know that our local domestic abuse services are still operating to support those that are able to reach out.”

Police forces throughout the UK have issued warnings to perpetrators that they will not be able to hide behind the lockdown.

South Yorkshire Police has said it is taking a “zero tolerance” approach to dealing with abusers. Superintendent Paul McCurry wanted to offer some reassurance to victims, he said: “ The isolation period, in most cases, will mean that you have little or no respite from your abuser and you may be concerned that your reporting mechanisms are now limited. I’m writing this to let you know we are here for you and will remain here for you throughout. We have the resources to support you and we will take your report seriously. “

Police in Humberside echoed the message, saying they don’t want vulnerable victims to think they’re alone. Assistant chief constable, Chris Noble commented: “Anyone who thinks that the social isolation is a free pass for them to behave how they like to people within their household needs to know that we are taking a firm and proactive approach to ensure that this does not happen. You will not be able to hide behind the lockdown.”

Stacey, added: “These are difficult times and it’s important that victims know that the law is still there to protect them. In addition to police support, our legal team are liaising with courts and can secure orders to safeguard them and their children.”

It will come as a welcome relief to many to know that they can leave their homes to seek help despite lockdown but we need the government to go further. In France, the government is providing funding for victims to be safely housed. Whilst in the UK, spending cuts have seen one in six refuges have to close their doors.

Silent calls warning
There is a myth that silent calls to 999 will automatically bring help. The National Police Chiefs Council warns that this is not the case. If someone in need of urgent help dials 999 but cannot speak, pressing 55 will divert their call to police call handlers who will ask a series of questions that can be answered by tapping on the handset. Callers must not rely on police being able to trace their location, especially if they’re calling from mobile phone.




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Men suffer abuse taboo

When you hear the words ‘domestic abuse’ many people automatically assume the victim will be a woman and the abuser will be a man.

However, the shocking scale of domestic abuse and violence towards men has been revealed in a recent report by the Yorkshire Post, and it makes sombre reading.

According to figures released by ManKind, the male support charity, one in three victims of domestic abuse is male, many in same sex relationships.

Whilst data gathered from four police forces across Yorkshire reveal that 18,646 men reported domestic abuse in 2017/18. And it’s believed that there are many thousands more who are not reporting the crime out of fear or shame.

One case highlighted in the report was that of a successful man with a good job. He had a supportive network of close friends and family around him. When he met his new partner he thought he’d met the love of his life. Things were great for a while, but then his partner started to become jealous of his friendships and their relationship spiralled into an abusive, volatile one.

It was a poster in the doctor’s surgery that made him realise he was the victim of domestic violence, when he realised that everything on it applied to him. But he kept quiet about it thinking that things would get better. They didn’t and while away on holiday, he suffered a violent and sustained physical attack at the hands of his partner.

On his return to the UK he called a domestic abuse support-line but was told they couldn’t help because he was male. He contacted another one but their helpline didn’t open until 9am. Eventually he was put in touch with the Bradford Cyrenians, who he says genuinely did save his life.

The Bradford Cyrenians was set up in 2014, initially as a homeless charity. Because of the large number of men coming to them who were fleeing domestic abuse, the Men Standing Up (MSU) service was set up to support them.

Since being formed MSU has received more than 4,000 calls. The charity supports male victims across the country by providing crash pads, emergency accommodation, a confidential Freephone helpline and secure accommodation. They have also helped hundreds of men to find long-term accommodation. Service Manager, Rachel Chadwick, said; “Because of the lack of provision nationally, men don’t know where to go to, instead they can turn to drugs, alcohol, self-harm and even suicide.”

Stacey Powney, family lawyer at Atherton Godfrey commented: “Domestic abuse is still a taboo subject for men and there is a lot of misunderstanding about what constitutes domestic abuse. It does not necessarily mean physical abuse or violence, and often victims may not realise they are being subjected to other forms of abuse, for example, coercive control, emotional and financial abuse.

It’s also important for victims to know that that regardless of their background, age or sexuality, they are not alone. They do not have to endure these violent or abusive relationships. In addition to the support networks there are legal options open to them too.”

For information or support contact the MSU support line 0300 303 0167

Further information can be found on the Bradford Cyrenians website

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Growing number of men reporting domestic abuse

Around 713,000 men experienced domestic abuse during 2016/17 and 13 died at the hands of their partner, according to new research by ManKind Initiative, the charity that supports male victims of domestic abuse.

One in six men will experience domestic abuse at some point in their lifetime, with gay or bi-sexual men being more vulnerable than those in a heterosexual relationship.

Mark Brooks, chair of the Mankind Initiative, said: “These figures are shocking and yet welcome. They show the level of domestic abuse against men and the growing confidence they have in coming forward.”

Even so, men are still three times less likely to tell anyone about the abuse than women. Half the men contacting the ManKind helpline had never spoken to anyone before. Many said they had suffered for as long as 6 years but have been reluctant to leave the relationship because of concern about their children. Half said they had been too embarrassed to say anything and a quarter genuinely feared for their life.

Generally, younger men are more likely to be abused by their partner, as illustrated by two cases to hit the headlines this year.

In one, Alix Skeel (22) suffered 4 years of mental abuse at the hands of his girlfriend. In the final 9 months of the relationship, Alix was stabbed and scalded by his 22 year-old partner, Jordan Worth, a fine art student who was later jailed for 7 ½ years.

In another case, Kieran Bewick (18) was stabbed by his girlfriend, Zoe Adams (19) who was sentenced to 11 years.

Don Bird, partner and head of family law, said: “The research reveals statistics that many will find shocking. But it does dispel the myth that domestic abuse is restricted to women or to those in heterosexual relationships. Hopefully this will encourage more men to seek the help they need to end the relationship.

The most common type of abuse is emotional, but men also suffer physical, financial, sexual and psychological abuse as well as coercive control. It is important that anyone suffering abuse, of whatever gender, knows that they can seek confidential advice in the knowledge that help is available.”

ManKind Initiative operates a confidential helpline where you can call anonymously on 01823 334244 weekdays 10am to 4pm. If you are in immediate danger call 999.

Author: Gail Harris

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Domestic violence victims spared trauma of cross examination by abuser

Under new government proposals, survivors of domestic abuse may now be able to avoid having to come face to face with their abuser in court proceedings.

“It is a matter of urgency that the government prioritises the implementation of the ban on this abhorrent practice, be it through the Courts Bill or the Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill,” Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid said. “Survivors must be able to safely access justice, in both the criminal and family courts, in their escape from domestic abuse.”

Amber Rudd, Home Secretary, said the government was also committed to making sure no one who needs a place at a refuge is turned away, as two women are killed by a current or former partner each week in England and Wales.

Given the recent relaxation of the requirements which need to be satisfied to obtain Legal Aid to be represented in family proceedings victims this means that a wider range of people are able to access legal support in what can be very difficult time in their lives.

If you are the victim of domestic abuse and are the subject of ongoing family court proceedings please do not hesitate to make contact with our dedicated specialist family law department to establish ways in which you can be supported.

If you have previously sought to access legal aid and have been denied due to lack of evidence please feel free to make enquiries with us as to whether, given a relaxation in the requirements, your eligibility may have since changed.

Contact us on 01302 320621 or alternatively email for confidential advice.

Author: Jayne Kirtley

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Legal aid restrictions removed for victims of domestic violence

The government’s plan to support victims of domestic violence appears to be materialising. In recently announced proposals the Ministry of Justice has announced plans from January 2018 to remove current barriers for those victims to secure legal aid funding in family cases.

At present the Legal Aid Agency has strict criteria for those victims to qualify for legal support in and out of court proceedings in family matters. Not only does a victim have to satisfy a financial eligibility test but since 2013 they have also been forced to prove they are a victim and this has sometimes come at a significant cost to them emotionally.  In some cases victims have been able to prove they were a victim but that proof was outside the time frame of occurring within the last 5 years.  This has left many victims suffering further abuse when facing their perpetrator in the family courts.

The range of documents accepted as evidence of abuse will be widened to include statements from domestic violence support organisations and housing support officers. At present the Legal Aid Agency only accepts documents from social services, law enforcement and medical professionals. The changes will also mean that the Legal Aid Agency will accept evidence of abuse against previous partners to support evidence that an applicant is ‘at risk’ of domestic violence.

Under the new guidance it is hoped that these strict conditions will be relaxed further to prevent any more vulnerable individuals feeling further persecuted whilst trying to protect themselves, their children or their family assets.

The proposed new legislation states that evidence of abuse can be obtained from a wider variety of sources and has removed the time limit in respect of such evidence.

Law Society president Joe Egan welcomed the fact that it will now be easier for victims to provide evidence and qualify for Legal Aid. He stated: “The five-year time limit causes difficulties for victims who were abused more than five years ago but have no recent documents to prove this.

The forms of evidence required have also been very restrictive. Broadening the types of evidence that can be accepted to include statements from domestic violence support organisations and housing support officers will remove many of the difficulties faced by victims.”

Elspeth Thomson, chair of the Legal Aid Committee at the family law organisation Resolution, said: “We’ve been calling for changes to the evidence gateway since 2013 and welcome this news…these changes, made in consultation with Resolution and others, are a step in the right direction, allowing the justice system to better support at risk and vulnerable people at perhaps the most difficult time of their lives – when the family unit is breaking down.”

If you have been the victim of domestic abuse, contact Atherton Godfrey’s specialist Family Law department on 01302 320621 or email at for confidential and supportive advice.

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Stalking and domestic violence – don’t suffer in silence

More than 1.1 million people experience stalking each year, according to the Crime Survey of England and Wales.

The latest law on stalking describes it as when an individual is “fixated and/or obsessed with another”, which can be shown by a pattern of persistent and repeated contact with a victim.  The Suzy Lamplugh Trust says that this can take many forms, whether sending flowers or carrying out physical or sexual assault.

Behaviour which is persistent, unwanted and causing fear, distress or anxiety is stalking and should not be tolerated.

In a recent report by the Inspectorate of Constabulary and the Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate said that victims were being left at risk because of failings by Police and prosecutors.

Katie Ghose, chief executive of Women’s Aid said: “Both the CPS and the Police need to do much more to ensure sufficient evidence is collected to prosecute the perpetrator without relying on victim’s testimony”.

Alongside these failings, victims of domestic violence are being denied the opportunity of escape due to the closure of specialist refuges in England.  National Charity, Women’s Aid says that almost a fifth of refuges have closed since 2010.

Many victims suffer at the hands of their perpetrators for months and years before taking that step to seek help only to then pick up the phone and find that there is nowhere to go.  Levels of refuge provision in England fall short by some 2.000 beds according to the minimum standards stipulated by the Council of Europe.  New legislation announced by the government earlier this year defining domestic abuse is welcomed however campaigners say it does little to address historic cuts to services and that funding for refuges should be ring-fenced to provide a long-term solution.

Even when the Police seem unwilling to offer assistance and/or specialist refuge accommodation is not available help is not lost.  Victims of domestic violence can seek assistance from the courts by applying for a non-molestation and occupation order protecting them from their perpetrator.  A non-molestation order if granted could protect a victim from further abuse and an occupation order could force a perpetrator to leave the family home and having done so be prohibited from returning to or within a defined area.

Legal Aid remains available for victims of domestic abuse in these situations.  Please do not lose hope if initial enquiries with those professionals prove unsatisfactory; contact Atherton Godfrey’s specialist Family Law department on 01302 320621 or alternatively by email at for confidential advice.

Whatever happens do not suffer in silence.

Author: Jayne Kirtley


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Legal aid lifeline for domestic violence victims

Author: Gail Harris

More victims of domestic violence will now be able to get the legal support they need to bring an end to their suffering.

In another welcome move to stamp out domestic violence, the government has removed the time limit for the evidence needed to be able to qualify for legal aid.

A spokesperson for the Law Society commented: “Legal aid is a lifeline for those who have suffered abuse. It is often the only way someone can bring their case before the courts.

“These changes will help domestic violence victims who have previously been deprived of valuable legal advice, support and representation to access essential family law remedies.”

Last year, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) relaxed the evidence requirement, giving victims a longer time period for the evidence.  Even so, victims could only access legal aid for court hearings if they were able to provide evidence that was less than 5 years old.

Under the new rules, this requirement has been completely removed and the types of evidence that can be used have also been widened so that financial abuse can also be included. To reduce the burden on the victims, evidence can now also be accepted from domestic violence support organisations.

Jayne Kirtley, specialist family lawyer at Atherton Godfrey, commented on the developments: “The current rules were far too restrictive and meant that many victims could not meet the criteria. Removing the evidential time restriction helps to create a more level playing field and means that victims can access the legal representation they need.”

Jayne advises: “If you or your children are being subjected to domestic violence, domestic abuse or financial abuse, please don’t delay getting help. You can speak to a family lawyer in total confidence at any time – you don’t need to get the evidence first.”

Prime Minister, Theresa May only recently announced plans to introduce new laws that would increase conviction rates and help people that are currently let down by the system.

Other recent developments include protecting victims from being cross examined by their abuser