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So many family law pilots... we'll need a holiday!

View profile for Franca Webb
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In family law there are often pilots in various areas of the country in effect testing out ideas in the hope that, if they are successful, they will be rolled out nationally to improve aspects of family law. 

The Crime and Security Act 2010 brought in Domestic Violence Protection Notices and Domestic Violence Protection Orders.  These are quick ways the police can ensure a victim is safe from a perpetrator.  The issue with these remedies is that whilst they are quick to implement, they are only very short-term solutions. 

The Home Office and Ministry of Justice were tasked with producing a longer-lasting solution and hence the concept of DAPNs and DAPOs (Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders) was born. These will be available in all courts including family courts, criminal courts and even civil courts.  The focus here will only look at DAPOs available in the family court.

The purpose of DAPOs is that they will bring together a protective order regime covering all courts.  They will be more tailor-made, there will be more flexibility and third parties can apply for an order on behalf of a victim (subject to the court’s approval). For the purposes of the pilot, a ‘third party’ has not yet been defined.

A victim can apply for an order in ongoing family proceedings.   It should be noted that the proceedings do not have to be domestic abuse based. Further, the court will be able to make an order of its own motion.

The procedure for applying for an order will be similar to an application for a non-molestation order which will be a formal application and supporting statement. The orders will have no minimum or maximum duration.  If a breach is found, then ultimately a perpetrator could be sent to prison for up to five years.  Electronic monitoring (EM), for a maximum of 12 months at a time, can be ordered if it is thought necessary and proportionate so that compliance with requirements can be monitored.

Positive actions can be imposed by an order for example that a perpetrator should attend a perpetrators' course.

 A DAPO can be made only if the perpetrator is aged over 18 and has been abusive to a person aged 16 or over to which they are personally connected.   The Domestic Abuse Act has a definition of “personally connected” which reads very much like the definition of associated persons for the purpose of the Family Law Act 1996.

The order will be made if it is thought it is necessary and proportionate to protect the victim from domestic abuse or risk of domestic abuse. A DAPO can be made initially without giving the perpetrator notice if it is just and convenient for the protection of the victim to do so.  The perpetrator must currently live in the piloting area but the abuse can have occurred anywhere (including abroad). Legal aid is going to be available for both the victim and the perpetrator (in criminal proceedings only for the perpetrator). 

If an application is made without notice, the applicant will have to show that there is a risk the perpetrator will cause significant harm to the victim if the order is not made immediately, that the applicant will be deterred or prevented from pursuing an application if the order is not made immediately or that the perpetrator would deliberately evade service and delay will cause serious prejudice to the victim.

The areas due to take part in the first pilot from Spring 2024 were Greater Manchester, Gwent and the three London Boroughs of Bromley, Croydon and Sutton but this has been delayed until at least the Summer. The pilot was expected to continue for 2 years following which it will be independently evaluated prior to an expected national rollout. The pilot may now be subject to getting the green light from the government in play at that time following the forthcoming election.

Author: Franca Webb, Senior Associate Family Law Solicitor,