1. Will I get legal aid?
Legal aid is available for all victims of domestic abuse if they are seeking a protective Order from the Court. However, if your financial circumstances are above the usual limits for non-contributory legal aid, you will undoubtedly be asked by the Legal Aid Agency to make contributions to your legal aid. This may be by way of a regular contribution from your income, or a one-off contribution from your capital. These one-off contributions can be in the region of many thousands of pounds (again, dependent upon your financial circumstances). Your lawyer will explore with you whether legal aid is in fact likely to be the most cost-efficient way of funding your matter, or whether other options may be more suitable for you.
2. Do I have to go to the police?
There is no requirement that you must go (or must have been) to the police before applying to the Court for a protective Order. However the Court would be likely to ask you why you had not first reported the matter to the police before attending in the Family Courts. The Legal Aid Agency would also expect you to have reported matters to the police before you apply to the Court (as they have a duty to make sure that the funds for legal aid are spent on the most deserving cases – and unless you have reported it you can’t know whether the police may take action themselves to protect you). If you have reported matters to the police and the police have decided not to take any further action, that does not mean that you cannot apply for a protective Order in the Family Courts.
3. Will I have to speak to my former partner?
You should not have to speak to them directly. However you may attend at a Court hearing where they are there representing themselves, and then your lawyer will speak to them. In the courtroom, you will generally be expected to listen to your former partner explain their position to the Judge, however they should not be allowed by the Court to speak to you directly. Your lawyer should intervene if your former partner approaches you directly.
4. Will I have to speak in Court?
Your evidence for the Court will first be presented in a statement, which will set out the history of the relationship and the abuse that has taken place. At the first hearing the Judge might ask you a few ‘closed’ questions (i.e. questions with short factual answers) to make sure that you are happy with the statement you have made and you understand what is going on. It may end up that your case has to go to a ‘contested hearing’ if your former partner both attends Court and objects to the making of any Order. In these circumstances, you may have to give evidence to the Court directly, which means going to the witness box and answering questions. If this is likely to happen in your case your lawyer will discuss it with you beforehand.
5. What evidence do I need?
Courts appreciate that often victims of domestic abuse do not seek help in the early stages, and do not report incidents to the police or other authorities. It is also common for victims to try to hide incidents in front of other people. Therefore Courts do not expect that victims of domestic abuse will have a long history of police or medical incidents. Sometimes there is no independent evidence, although often some kind of evidence does exist if it is looked into carefully. This may be in the form of statements from former friends, colleagues or neighbours, GP notes regarding injuries or conditions, other heath professionals’ notes (e.g. mental health services) or social services’ assessments. Each case will be looked at individually, and you may have sources of evidence that you had not previously thought about.