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Online court orders will reduce spread of Coronavirus

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Online court orders will reduce spread of Coronavirus

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As society continues to grapple with the effects of Covid 19, NCDV, the National Centre for Domestic Violence, is calling upon all Family and County Courts in England to bring forward their plans to issue electronic Court Orders immediately.

Together with various law firms, NCDV helps over 10,000 victims a year to secure vital Non Molestation Orders (NMOs), believed to be the single most effective countermeasure against domestic abuse and violence.  Breaches of such Orders are a criminal offence punishable by up to five years in prison.

Mark Groves, NCDV’s chief executive, is asking the Courts to implement immediately long-held plans to issue Court Orders such as these online.  Electronic Court Orders have already been the norm with the Manchester and Wolverhampton Courts for several years.

“It’s vital we use this Covid 19 crisis to bring forward planned reform of the rest of the Courts system,” he said. “This is an opportunity to not only save time and costs but help to reduce the person-to-person spread of the virus in Court.”

NMOs are particularly topical because police forces have gone on record to say they are likely to de-prioritize those events without risk to life.

“With Coronavirus, domestic abuse victims are facing a perfect storm,” Groves continued. “The Government’s pandemic suppression policies are likely to mean that couples and families are more likely to find themselves cooped up together.”

“Many of the usual education and social outlets such as schools, playgroups, pubs, cafes, cinemas, sporting fixtures and betting shops simply won’t be available to them.”

For relationships which are already blighted by abuse or violence the tensions are likely to become unbearable, placing already vulnerable domestic violence and abuse victims at huge risk.

“We need to be able to help these victims fast.  But at the moment, the vast majority of Courts in England use an unwieldy and time-consuming procedure to issue protective injunctions.”

A solicitor must apply to the Court which grants a Court Order.  The Order must be typed out and has to be given physically to an individual – called a process server – who attends the Court and then has the job of serving the Order on the perpetrator in person.”

“All most Courts would have to do is to send the Order directly to the process server or the solicitor by email, most likely using the same scanner they use to print the Order out in the first place. ”

“Reducing the time to issue results in faster protection of the victim and, in this current crisis, reduces the person-to-person spread of Covid-19.”

“We can and should use these extraordinary circumstances to bring about a long-overdue reform and, in all likelihood, save lives.”

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By Fiona Bawden, Times Online (8th May 2007)

“Steve Connor, a student at City Law School, is a man on a mission. Six years ago he was a fairly directionless 27-year-old. Today, as well as taking the Bar Vocational Course, he is chairman of the National Centre for Domestic Violence, a ground-breaking organisation that he dragged into existence after a friend could not get legal help to protect her from an abusive partner.

Connor’s route to the Bar has been circuitous. In 2001 he returned from a year in Australia (he says that he would not dignify describing it as a gap year), and took a job as a process server in South London. The job (“I just saw it advertised in the paper”) was not quite as dull as it sounds. On one occasion he was threatened with a machete, on another, he was nearly stabbed by a man he had arranged to meet on Clapham Common to serve with a non-molestation order: “He’d seemed really friendly on the phone…”

The turning point in his life came when a friend, who was being abused by her partner, turned to him for support. Connor went with her to the police. She did not want to press criminal charges so the police suggested that she visit a solicitor to take out a civil injunction. “We must have seen 12 solicitors in a morning. We just went from one to the next to the next to the next. Everyone was very eager to help until we sat down to fill in the forms for the legal aid means test,” he says. The woman, who had a small child, did not qualify for public funding. But, Connor says, her financial situation as it appeared on paper did not bear any relation to her financial situation in reality. “She had a part-time job and she and her partner owned their home. Yet she didn’t have any money. Her boyfriend was very controlling and controlled all the money; he kept the chequebooks and didn’t let her have access to the bank account.”

The injustice of the situation got under Connor’s skin. “I just couldn’t believe that there was no help available to people who did not qualify for public funds but could not afford to pay.

I just kept feeling that this must be able to be sorted if only someone would address it.”That “someone” turned out to be him.

In 2002, thanks entirely to Connor’s doggedness, the London Centre for Domestic Violence was formed. It started out with him and a friend, but is now a national organisation, covering 27 counties, and has helped approximately 10,000 victims last year to take out injunctions against their partners.

NCDV now has nine full-time staff, 12 permanent volunteers and has trained over 5000 law and other students as McKenzie Friends to accompany unrepresented victims into court. We have also trained over 8000 police officers in civil remedies available regarding domestic violence. The National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) has branches in London, Guildford and Manchester and is on track to have branches in 16 areas within the next two years.

NCDV specialises exclusively in domestic violence work and could be characterised as a cross between McDonald’s and Claims Direct. The high degree of specialisation means that its processes are streamlined: clients can be seen quickly and the work is done speedily and cheaply. “Sometimes, we will have one of our trained McKenzie Friends at a court doing 10 applications in one day,” Connor says.

Clients are not charged for the service. NCDV staff take an initial statement: clients who qualify for legal aid are referred to a local firm; those that don’t get free help from the centre itself. It runs on a shoestring, heavily reliant on volunteers and capping staff salaries at £18,000 a year.

Steve expects to qualify as a barrister this summer and hopes that having a formal legal qualification will give the centre added clout. “We are already acknowledged as experts and consulted at a high level, so I thought it would be helpful if I could back that up by being able to say I’m a barrister,” he says. He is just about to complete a one-year full-time BVC course at the City Law School (formerly the Inns of Court Law School) and, all being well, should be called to the Bar in July. Although Connor sees his long-term future as a barrister, he says that he has no immediate plans to practise. “I want to get NCDV running on a fully national level. Then I may take a step back and have a career at the Bar.”