Domestic Abuse - Legal Overhaul Needed

By Alice Blackmore, 31st July 2020

You will no doubt have all heard and seen the case concerning Johnny Depp and Amber Heard which has been dominant across the news networks recently. It is unfortunate that a case involving two high profile celebrities has been needed in order to highlight the problems in our justice system in respect of proving domestic abuse cases.

The case, which has involved four weeks of court room investigations, aided by first class lawyers examining CCTV recordings, text messages, photos and numerous witnesses has raised many issues concerning how difficult it can be to prove domestic abuse in cases where two people are giving a completely opposite account of the events that occurred in private. Although the government are taking steps to reform our system, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.

In June 2020 the government prepared a report called ‘Assessing Risk of Harm to Children and Parents in Private Law Children Cases’. The aim of that report was to “better understand the experience of those involved in proceedings (private law children disputes involving domestic abuse) build a more robust evidence based to inform improvements”.

The report has highlighted a number of concerns regarding the inconsistent approach taken in relation to the implementation of Practice Direction 12J and the difficulties the court have found in relation to striking a balance between the children’s welfare interests in having involvement from both parents and protection of harm caused by domestic abuse.

In all family law cases, there is no one size fits all solution. However, and particularly in cases whereby there has been no recent physical abuse, it has highlighted the difficulties the court have in proving psychological, controlling and coercive behaviour and financial abuse.

Not surprisingly, the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted many families. The purpose of lockdown was to reduce the main danger facing most of our families –the risk of infection and its consequences.  However, in some cases, many families have been in a position whereby it has been quite the opposite - they have had no choice but to continue living with their abusive partner. Therefore placing them at risk within their own home. As the restrictions ease, it is vitally important for those families suffering from domestic abuse to seek the relevant legal advice in order to protect them and any children from any further risk of harm. It is important to remember that the abuse does not just have to be physical but it can also be psychological, mental, emotional, financial, and can include coercive and controlling behaviour.

Although the recent report and Depp v Heard case highlight a number of criticisms in respect of our current justice system, there is promise and suggested reforms and recommendations to ensure that the child’s voice is heard, and to ensure that there are the relevant provisions in place for those victims attending court. Furthermore, it suggests that the relevant professionals involved in these cases should have specific training so that they are more aware of the fact that domestic abuse causes trauma to children and the adult victims.

Furthermore, the Domestic Abuse Bill is at the second reading stage and, the aim of that Bill is to raise awareness and understanding about the devastating impact of domestic abuse of victims and their family and to improve the effectiveness of the justice system by providing protection for its victims.

One of the main factors of that Bill is that there should be a statutory ban on direct cross examination by the perpetrator to the victim.

One of the biggest criticisms of the justice system is about how difficult it is to prove abuse which is not physical. You may have heard stories in which people who have suffered abuse, which may not be physical, have not been taken seriously and their allegations have been dismissed. However, with the correct legal advice and support, you can ensure the relevant protection is in place for you and your family.

Goughs Solicitors have an experienced family law team and if you or any one you know have been directly affected by any of the contents of this article then please do not hesitate to contact us on 01249 444499, email newstart@goughs.co.uk or complete our online form to arrange your free half hour consultation.