There has been much reporting in the family law world of an increase of cases where domestic abuse is a feature arising during the lockdown for COVID19.
A non-molestation order is a type of injunction telling someone not to be violent or abusive to another person. Breaking an order of this type is a criminal offence.
An occupation order is also a type of injunction order allowing someone to live in a property, telling someone else to let them in or telling someone else that they have to leave and stay away.
Both types of these orders are usually time limited for between 6 and 12 months. They are meant to be temporary orders.
Whenever a non-molestation order or occupation order is made, the usual course of events is that the order has to be personally handed to the party against whom the order is made (the perpetrator or person who was violent/abusive). If the perpetrator is in court when the order is made, then the court can record on the face of the order that they were there and say they are bound straightaway. The point is that the order is not effective against someone until they are made aware of it and served properly.
The effect of COVID is that there has been a rise of cases needing these types of orders and the court bailiff capacity for personally handing the papers to the perpetrator is severely stretched.
The court procedure rules have been changed until 31 May 2021 to allow for service in other ways. Service is the name for giving the documents to the perpetrator.
Personal service (handing the papers to them) should be used unless there are very good reasons not to. Where other methods are being used (for example email, WhatsApp, text, Facebook, putting through the door of a last known address) the order allowing that method needs to set out that the method is being allowed. I would say the order should also say why it is being allowed – to show the ‘good reason’ part. The court still has to be sure that the person knows an order is being made against them so that if they break the order at a later date, they cannot claim that they did not know the order was in force.
The police still have to be sent a copy of the non-molestation order and also if an occupation order is made with a power of arrest attached to it. If either of these orders are broken, the police have immediate powers to arrest the person breaking the order. The police also need to be sure that the person has been served so the orders should only be sent to the police after they have been served upon the perpetrator.
The court has always been able to consider alternative methods of making sure someone knows about an order but this change in procedure rules just makes it that bit easier. For the moment, anyway.
If you need help in a case involving these types of orders, please contact me.