A terrible story hit the news earlier this week, of the first murder since COVID lockdown was announced. 67 year old Ruth Williams was killed in her home where she was self-isolating with her husband, Tony Williams, who has been charged with her murder.
While this is a horrifying and tragic story it is, sadly, not surprising for those working in the family and criminal justice systems who have been concerned since social distancing was instituted about the safety and protection of people at risk of domestic abuse during these uncertain times. The lockdown made this concern all the more real.
Now that The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 have been published, there is more clarity on how people seeking to escape abusive households are able to do so without breaking the law. There are several exceptions to the general stay at home rule and a few of these are particularly relevant to these people.
Individuals are allowed to leave their homes to escape a risk of harm. They are allowed to leave their homes to access services provided to victims of crime. They are allowed to leave their homes to participate in legal proceedings, and they are allowed then to leave their homes to move house where reasonably necessary. It is therefore possible for an application for non-molestation orders and occupation orders to proceed more or less as normal (albeit with the slight novelty that any hearing may be heard remotely).
It seems now to be a question of disseminating information. If a person, already scared for their life much of the time, believes that they are not allowed out of the house unless they are going to the shops or for their Boris walk, they will be feeling more trapped than ever. It is hugely important that these people are aware that the law has provided them with exceptions and that they do have the freedom necessary to seek assistance and protect themselves.