Family Law continues to have a presence on the Government agenda as several consultations and reviews were announced in respect of existing laws governing domestic abuse and kinship care cases.
Reports claim that consideration is being given to whether Criminal Law should be updated so as to cover other forms of domestic abuse outside of the traditional understanding of violence; including psychological abuse through fear and unreasonable control. It is hoped that the change would encourage people in abusive, but not violent, relationships to speak out and to be reassured that remedies are available.
Various aspects of Family Law already feature a wide definition of domestic abuse as being harmful, and offer remedies, such as Injunctions, but having no criminal sanctions can mean that behaviour goes unpunished.
Of course a change of law would be only part of the process for improving assistance and support for victims of domestic violence and/or domestic abuse, with support services and police handling of cases coming under fire recently as inadequate.
There is also the age-old difficulty of proving the behaviour, especially to the criminal standard of “beyond reasonable doubt” when so often the case boils down to the word of one individual or another, especially in cases of non-physical forms of abuse.
There is also difficulty in getting some victims of abuse to be able to recognise the behaviour as abusive themselves, and then to take steps to deal with it, with reporting the behaviour only usually talking place after many incidents; on average.
Most of those dealing with domestic abuse agree that anything which helps increase awareness and increase the powers of the Courts to deal with abusive individuals is a good thing, but it is hoped that any review takes a more holistic approach and looks at the whole system surrounding domestic violence; as whilst a change in the law may help, it's vital that the infrastructure to deal with abuse cases is in place, otherwise any progress will be minimal.
Slater and Gordon Lawyers currently represent alleged abuse victims of Jimmy Savile, Cyril Smith, alleged victims of abuse at St. Paul's school in London; and alleged abuse victims at Chethams School of Music and the Royal North Music College.
Cara Nuttall is a Family Solicitor specialising in domestic abuse cases at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Manchester.
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