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Protection from violence

This week and last have been quite quiet ones in family law terms, other than some kerfuffle about another multi-million pound divorce that’s been reported in the papers because of the massive figures involved, but for which the judgment isn’t out yet, so we don’t really know the reasoning. Instead we thought we’d look at a few strands relating to violence within the context of relationships, as a supplement to Adam’s white ribbon post of last month.

The first thing to come out, thanks to The Independent, was the disparity between the increase in reports of domestic abuse incidents and the fall in the number of those being charged with offences. Between 2015 and 2016, there was a 10% drop in the number of charges despite a rise in recorded incidents.

More people coming forward to report being harmed by their partner is something to be applauded, and an outcome for which awareness charities, support workers and the police (among others) have been working for over many years. However, something seems to be happening between the point of people coming forward and the stage of the police taking the case to the Crown Prosecution Service for a decision on charging. The question is – what?

Charities say that they have been decimated by cuts due to ‘austerity’. The article reports the loss of refuges and support services, and budget cuts to the police that put pressure on specialist services and may lead to crimes being categorized as less serious, or relying too heavily on the testimony of the victim, which may be withdrawn if the victim is not properly supported. Indeed, this issue was followed up by one of our fellow law firms and again reported in the Independent which found figures revealing a 40% increase in the number of victims withdrawing their witness statements in 2016 from the previous year.

The government – indeed the Prime Minister personally – has committed to looking carefully at this area of law and promised to invest £20m into improvements to services. Details of how this will be used are yet to be publicized, but we hope it is invested quickly and wisely so that victims of crime and the police investigating can be supported in their roles in this essential area.

A criminal law case this week showed some judicial creativity on the matter of protecting future partners of a vicious abuser. A man was convicted of serious assaults against two women with whom he was in relationships, and was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. He was also subjected to an order that he must inform police if he is “in a relationship for more than 14 days”, according to this report in the Guardian. The report states that although this is the first recorded requirement of this specific type, last year a judge made an order under the same provision of law that a man who had been acquitted of rape must inform the police 24 hours before having any sexual contact with a woman.

These orders are interesting markers put down by courts which are clearly concerned about patterns of behaviour that present a risk to women who may come into contact with these particular offenders, and which are keen to use the powers they have to protect potential victims as far as possible. However, there must be questions about how the courts expect these orders to be policed and enforced.

Finally, a note on Clare’s Law – well, more a reminder that it exists. This allows anyone with concerns about a current partner to ask the police for a ‘domestic violence disclosure’ to find out whether there have been any incidents in the past. There’s a good guide on how to do this here.

If you have any questions about what you have read here or anything else about family law, do please give us a call on 01223 443333 and make an appointment to speak to Adam, Tricia, Gail, Simon or Sue.