Somerset woman: Domestic abuse story is a lesson

Exeter family court finds man breached non-molestation injunction

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James Harbottle
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Exeter family court finds man breached non-molestation injunction

Ian Walker Director/Solicitor/Mediator /Arbitrator Law Society Children Panel and Mediation Accredited
Ian Walker Director/Solicitor/Mediator /Arbitrator Law Society Children Panel and Mediation Accredited

The Family Court at Exeter has found that a man has breached an injunction order restraining him from molesting his former partner. The case is a useful illustration of how the Family Court protects a victim of domestic abuse.

Before we look at the case, however, we need to consider briefly how the law operates.

Injunctions and enforcement

A victim of domestic abuse may apply to the Family Court for two types of orders to protect them from the abuse. These orders are usually referred to as ‘injunctions’.

The first type of order is known as a ‘non-molestation order’. Such an order prohibits one party from molesting, harassing or pestering the other party, including damaging their property.

The other type of order is the ‘occupation order’, which can order an abuser to leave the family home, or prevent them from returning to the home if they have already left.

Obviously, injunction orders are of little value if they cannot be enforced, should the party against whom the order is made breaches the order.

The way in which an injunction order can be enforced depends upon the type of order.

A breach of a non-molestation order is a criminal offence, and therefore if the police believe that an order has been breached they can arrest the person who breached the order and charge them with a criminal offence.

Exeter court finds man breached non-molestation injunction

However, as we will see, the police are not always prepared to take such action. In that case, the victim can go back to the Family Court and ask it to deal with the breach as a contempt of court, for which it could impose a prison sentence.

Breach of an occupation order is not a criminal offence, and can only therefore be dealt with under the contempt of court procedure.

Harassing and intimidating

So to the Exeter Family Court case.

The case concerned a couple who separated in November last year.

Shortly afterwards, the woman obtained a non-molestation order against the man, in the Exeter Family Court. The order stated, amongst other things: that he must not intimidate, harass or pester her; that he must not damage, attempt to damage or threaten to damage any property owned by her; and that he must not use or threaten violence against the children.

The woman believed that the man had breached the order, and therefore reported the matter to the police. However, the police took the view that there was not enough evidence to convict the man of a breach of the order.

The woman therefore went back to the Exeter family court, and asked it to commit the man for contempt of court.

She alleged that the man had intimidated, harassed or pestered her, had attempted or threatened to damage her property, and had used or threatened violence against the relevant children. In particular, she alleged that there had been four incidents during which the man had breached the order.

The court considered those four incidents in turn.No-fault divorce: the perspective of a respondent in a divorce

Before it did so, however, it found that nothing that the woman alleged amounted to violence, or a threat of violence, against the children, and therefore there was no breach of that part of the order.

In the first incident the woman claimed that the man had followed her car late at night, driving close behind with his headlights on full beam, and causing the woman considerable distress. The incident was corroborated by CCTV footage, and the court was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that in acting as he did the man was harassing and intimidating the woman, and that it was his intention to do so.

As to the other three alleged incidents, however, the court found no breach of the non-molestation order. All three incidents also involved encounters on the road with the man’s van, but all were found to be just chance encounters.

The man will be sentenced at a later date.