According to Refuge, the charity providing invaluable help and support for women and children affected by domestic violence, 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence over their lifetime. It affects people from all walks of life. Whilst the majority of victims are female, this is a problem that also affects men.
Domestic abuse is often considered to be about physical abuse, but emotional abuse can be just as damaging and can escalate to physical violence over time.
In 1989 Sara Thornton was sentenced to life imprisonment after being convicted of the murder of her violent husband. At a retrial in 1996, which lasted 12 days, her sentence was reduced to manslaughter and she was released. She was considered to be a victim of “battered wife syndrome” following years of her husband’s repeated violence. Women’s Groups pressed for a change in the way domestic violence cases were dealt with by the Courts following this case.
Protection can be obtained through the Family Courts where the parties are “associated” people under the Family Law Act 1996, which includes spouses, civil partners, co-habitants and former partners as well as other family members. The victim can apply for a Non-Molestation Order preventing either the perpetrator or someone instructed by him/her from harming them, threatening to harm them, communicating with them or coming within a specified distance of their home. Where appropriate, children can also be included in such an Order. If the Order is then breached, the police will be able to arrest the perpetrator and severe punishments can be applied, to include imprisonment for a term up to five years. It is also possible, provided the relevant criteria are met, to apply for an Occupation Order which defines who is allowed to occupy a property. This means that the Court has the power to Order someone to vacate their home to enable the other party to occupy it safely, or to only occupy part of it. In considering such an application the Court would take into account the risk of harm to the Applicant and any relevant children if the Order is not made.
Sometimes people will feel unable to take action for financial reasons, worrying about who will pay the mortgage if Court action is taken. When making an Occupation Order under the Family Law Act the Court has the power to make a variety of supplementary orders, to include ordering the perpetrator to meet the mortgage payments, rent or other outgoings.
The development in the law with the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007, which came into force on 25 November 2008, creates new powers under the Family Law Act to enable family courts to prevent forced marriages taking place and to make orders to protect the victim where a forced marriage has already taken place. In the case of a forced marriage, either one or both of the parties to that marriage do not consent to it. An application for a Forced Marriage Protection Order can be made against a wide range of people and the application can be made by the victim, a relevant third party, such as a local authority, and any other person who is given permission by the Court, such as a friend or relative.
Incidents of extreme domestic violence are now being reported more in the news. We have the cases of Mick Phillpott and Rachel Slack making headlines. These were horrific crimes. In March 2014 Clare’s Law rolled out across the country. It is hoped that this will help protect women from violent partners. Clare Wood was murdered by her ex-boyfriend George Appleton in 2009, who had a horrific history of violence against women. Clare’s father campaigned for this change in the Law to protect woman.
Domestic violence changes lives not only of the victim but also of the children who often witness the incidents as well and in some cases, such as Rachel Slater, also become a victim themselves.
Here at BLB Solicitors, we recognise that people in these situations need clear, balanced advice as to the options available to them. We are able to take urgent action under the Family Law Act to obtain protection for clients and some members of their family who are at risk. If you require advice or assistance with this, or with related family matters, please contact a member of the Family Team.