Since 2013, when LASPO came into force, it has been reported by the National Audit Office that up to 80% of private family law cases before the courts involve at least one party that has no legal representation. This is an increase of some 30%, or approximately 18,500 families per year, on pre-LASPO levels. Within this same time frame, the number of non-molestation orders issued by the courts has also increased by 7,249 to more than 26,000 a year.
Non-molestation orders are aimed at preventing a party from using or threatening violence against another, or intimidating, harassing or pestering you. When deciding whether to grant a non-molestation order, the court will consider all the circumstances, including the need to secure the health, safety and well being of the applicant and any children. Non-molestation orders are ordered on the civil law burden of proof, i.e. the balance of probabilities, with the courts asking the question “is it more likely than not that this alleged incident occurred?” In most cases, the applicant party is female.
Non-molestation orders can be used as evidence of domestic violence by parties seeking to obtain legal aid for further litigation associated with the breakdown of a relationship, e.g. a dispute over contact arrangements for children.
Parenting charity Families Need Fathers, has completed a review of trends of non-molestation orders, illustrating a 37% increase in the number of these orders made by the courts over the past five years. Reflecting on the data, Jerry Karlin, Chair and Managing Trustee of Families Need Fathers, said,
“We have known for some time that people were exaggerating or making bogus allegations against former partners to secure Legal Aid in their private family disputes. We now know how widespread this is and we have seen how this appears to depend on where you live. False allegations used to steal Legal Aid and to use it to damage a child’s relationship with an ex is the height of blind selfishness – and devastates the lives of children and parents. We need checks and balances to expose and discourage the weaponisation of the courts by angry and vengeful parents who discover that lying in court, in order to get Legal Aid and to exclude and hurt the other parent, is a profitable business. Legislation and proper process must applied to safeguard the real victims. Making bogus allegations of violence is fraud and must be dealt with.”
Katie Ghose, chief executive of Women’s Aid, questioned the link between the rise in non-molestation orders and legal aid cuts, stating
“We are not aware of any cases where mothers have falsely applied for non-molestation orders. We know from our work with survivors that non-molestation orders can be difficult to obtain and the court process itself can be distressing for victims. Given that the police are recording record numbers of domestic abuse-related incidents and offences, we would expect the number of non-molestation orders being applied for and granted to increase as more victims have the courage to report to the police and seek protection through the justice system … It is misleading to suggest that this increase in non-molestation orders granted by the courts is a result of false allegations of domestic abuse to secure legal aid, as we are not aware of any evidence to support this. It sends out a dangerous message to survivors: it tells them that they may not be believed and this can deter women who have experienced domestic abuse from speaking out and accessing the help they desperately need.”
The Ministry of Justice has launched a review of the impact of LASPO, which is expected to report by the end of the year.
Serving Bedford and the surrounds, together with our office in central London, Hunter and Uro Solicitors can help you with any family law matter, including divorce, financial matters and those concerning children. Our team of solicitors can provide you wish advice and guidance on the use of non-molestation orders. If you would like to speak to one of our solicitors to discuss your case, contact us on 01234 889777 or 0207 177 9777.