Breaching an Injunction
Injunctions are designed to protect adults and children that may be vulnerable to domestic abuse, but what happens if they are breached?
The past few months have seen a concerning rise in reports of domestic abuse. The additional financial, mental health and other pressures that the global pandemic has placed upon families will have no doubt served to heighten tensions in what may be already very difficult situations. Likewise, the lack of visibility of families from third parties, such as schools and workplaces, may have placed vulnerable adults and children at an increased risk of abuse.
When allegations of abuse (be that physical, emotional or verbal abuse) the focus immediately turns to measures that can be put in place to best protect the vulnerable party. Injunctions can be a powerful tool in this regard. An injunction is an order from a court that prevents a person from taking a certain action. Here, the relevant injunction is known as a “non-molestation” order.
A non-molestation order can prohibit a person from taking the following actions (amongst other things) against an Applicant (or asking someone else to do so on their behalf):
- visiting them
- using or threatening violence against them
- intimidating or pestering them
- contacting them by any means (including by social media or telephone)
- attending or damaging their property or coming within a certain distance of the Applicant or their property
Whilst a court order will provide some peace of mind in itself, what happens if it is breached?
Firstly, it is important to make sure that the Respondent (i.e. the person subject to the order) is aware of the non-molestation order and the terms it contains. It is, therefore, important to make sure that the order is properly served on the Respondent (the court would usually expect this to be done by a process server).
Provided that service can be shown, any breach of the non-molestation order will be criminal offence and can result in the Respondent being arrested. The court sanctions for a breach vary depending on the severity (i.e. whether there is physical violence or a threat to life) and can range between community service or a fine, to a sentence of imprisonment for up to 5 years.
The purpose of non-molestation orders is to protect some of the most vulnerable people in our society and, therefore, a breach is considered to be a very serious offence. The fact that it falls into the realm of criminal law means that the court has powers available to it to impose additional punishments over and above the ones listed above, depending on the nature of the case.
One such example of this was a case from April this year which involved the breach of a non-molestation order during lockdown. The terms of the order prohibited the Respondent from directly contacting his ex-partner or attending her property. Having been served with the non-molestation order, the Respondent nevertheless attended his ex-partner’s property on two separate occasions and attempted to speak to her. After the involvement of the police, the Respondent ultimately ended up in court and pleaded guilty. Although the two breaches were considered to be less severe (i.e. they were an attempt at making contact as opposed to physical violence), the Respondent was still was sentenced with:
- A £1,000 fine;
- A restraining order;
- Community Service; and
- Specific restrictions relating to his profession.
It is also not uncommon to come across cases where judges have imposed electronic tagging of Respondents and/or curfews. Again, the type of sanctions which are imposed will fall on the facts of the case and the severity of the breach. Ultimately, this goes to show the seriousness of a breach of a non-molestation order and how they are dealt with in the court arena.