HM Insights

What do you do in a domestic abuse situation?

Jenni Gear, a Family Law solicitor based in Harper Macleod's Lerwick office, looks at what someone can do if they find themselves in a situation where they believe they are the victim of domestic abuse.

This year has been a year like no other. With the full lockdown, local restrictions and working from home this has created additional stress for everyone, especially families who may already be under strain. Sadly domestic violence is something which family solicitors have seen a rise in queries regarding during the pandemic. Clearly there is a criminal route available involving the police and the abuser being arrested but from a civil (non criminal) law position there are also remedies which can assist in these difficult circumstances.



The term domestic abuse is used to describe inappropriate behaviour between two individuals who are or have been in a relationship with each other. Domestic abuse does not only involve physical harm but can also include sexual, mental and emotional abuse. Abuse can be violence, harassment, threatening actions or any conduct which could give rise to physical or mental injury, fear, alarm or distress. Examples can include isolating someone from their friends or family, controlling their day-to-day activities, depriving them of their freedom or a mere presence in a particular location.

Steps for victims to take

If someone feels they are or have been a victim of domestic abuse, they should phone the police in the first instance if possible. The police can act immediately and step in to protect the victim. This can result in the abuser being charged and being subject to bail conditions which prevent them contacting the victim in any way, in the interim period prior to the accused either pleading guilty or the case proceeding to trial. One important aspect is that the victim's support for prosecution is not required therefore if somebody telephones the police regarding domestic abuse and then tries to withdraw their complaint at a later date, this will not necessarily mean the case will not proceed.

Aside from the criminal aspect, there are various civil (non-criminal) protections available which a victim can obtain from the court in domestic abuse cases. A exclusion order can be used to suspend the rights of the abuser to reside in the family home. A common law interdict is an order which prevents an individual carrying out a specific action or behaviour. Therefore an interdict can be combined with an exclusion order to suspend someone's occupancy rights in a property and also prevent them from entering or remaining in the property. An interdict can also be used to stop an abuser approaching a victim. Interdicts can have a power of arrest attached to them, which would mean that if the abuser breached the interdict they would automatically be arrested. A non-harassment order is designed to protect the victim from a course of conduct amounting to harassment which causes the victim alarm or distress. A breach of a non-harassment order is a criminal offence.

Support is available

Support is available for both men and women who may be victims of domestic abuse. For men examples include Victim Support Scotland or Abused Men in Scotland and for women there is Scottish Woman's Aid and the Scottish Woman's Rights Centre. If you feel you have been a victim of domestic abuse, you should contact the police or a solicitor as soon as possible. If you have been accused of domestic abuse, legal advice at an early stage is advisable.

Get in touch - we're here to help

If you require advice on options available in circumstances involving domestic abuse, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our family law team by telephone or by submitting an online enquiry for a confidential and free chat. Our solicitors are available across the country to help:

Useful Links