Domestic abuse: What legal protection is there?

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If you are experiencing domestic violence but do not wish to pursue a criminal case, you can still seek the protection of the civil courts by applying for an injunction against the person who is assaulting, molesting or harassing you.

Court orders usually cover a period of 12 months and can carry with them powers of arrest, which means that the abuser can be arrested if they breach the order.

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Legal aid

Legal aid is public funding from the Legal Services Commission to help with court fees.

If you receive income support or income-based job seekers allowance, you can automatically be granted legal aid if you apply to a franchised solicitor. The solicitor must deal with the application for an injunction and arrange for representation in court. A person earning a low wage may also be eligible for legal aid.

If you are not eligible for legal aid but do not have the funds to pay for solicitor's and barrister's fees, you can try to secure an injunction by going to the county court and collecting the relevant forms.

Domestic violence advocacy workers will offer assistance with the completion of the forms. When these forms are returned to the court a payment is due. Once the court order is granted the only other payment due is the charge made by the process server. This is the person who hands the order to the defendant.

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What if my immigration status is insecure?

If you are subject to immigration control, your immigration status and the breakdown of your marriage or relationship may affect your ability to obtain benefits and permanent residence.

However, if you have been granted limited leave to stay in the UK on the basis of your marriage or relationship and you are subjected to domestic violence by your sponsor or his family, you may be able to make an independent application for leave to remain in the UK.

This is because immigration rules provide for the granting of 'indefinite leave to remain' to victims of domestic violence who were originally admitted to the UK as the spouse, unmarried partner, same sex partner; or civil partner of a person present and settled in the UK (the sponsor). This is called the domestic violence rule.

If you are applying on these grounds, you must be able to demonstrate that the relationship was caused to permanently break down as a result of domestic violence before the end of the initial two-year period of leave. This rule applies if the sponsor is the perpetrator or if the abuse is at the hands of persons other than the sponsor.

Evidence you usually need to be eligible under the domestic violence rule is:

  • an injunction, non-molestation order or other protection order made against your sponsor (other than an ex-parte or interim order)
  • a relevant conviction against the sponsor
  • full details of a relevant police caution issued to your sponsor

It is advisable to obtain legal advice before making any application to remain in the UK. Always use a reputable and a properly qualified immigration solicitor or advisor for legal advice and assistance. Also remember that even if you have an insecure immigration status, you may be entitled to legal aid.

Make your application to remain in the UK before your current leave expires, as this improves your chances of obtaining leave to remain and your ability to appeal against a refusal.

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