The government’s Domestic Abuse Bill, which has been described as “the most comprehensive package ever presented to Parliament to tackle domestic abuse, both supporting victims and bringing perpetrators to justice”, is to receive its first reading in the House of Commons today.

Measures in the Bill include:

• introducing the first ever statutory government definition of domestic abuse, which will include economic abuse

• establishing a Domestic Abuse Commissioner to champion victims and survivors

• introducing new Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders to further protect victims and place restrictions on the actions of offenders

• prohibiting the cross-examination of victims by their abusers in the family courts

• providing automatic eligibility for special measures to support more victims to give evidence in the criminal courts

Justice Secretary David Gauke commented:

“This Bill marks a fundamental shift in our response to domestic abuse – establishing greater protections for victims, whilst ensuring perpetrators feel the full weight of the law.

“By banning abusers from cross-examining their victims in the family courts, and giving courts greater powers through new protection orders, we are making sure the justice system is better equipped than ever to tackle this horrific crime.”

As we have said before, Family Law Cafe welcomes the Bill, in particular the provision prohibiting the cross-examination of alleged victims by their alleged abusers in the family courts.

For further information about how you can protect yourself from domestic abuse, see this post. If you would like to know more about protecting yourself from domestic violence and abuse, or if you would like to apply for a court order, Family Law Café can help. To book a free initial consultation with us click the green button at the top of this page and fill in the form, or call us on 020 3904 0506.

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Family Law Cafe offers a modern, agile and compassionate approach to family law, giving you a helping hand when you need it and guiding you through the complexities of this difficult and stressful area.

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The last thing that we here at Family Law Cafe want to do is take sides in the argument over who should or should not be this country’s next Prime Minister. However, there is an important message to take from the reporting of an incident the other day at the home of Boris Johnson and his partner, Carrie Symonds.

The important message is this: if you are concerned that a serious incident of domestic abuse may be taking place then you should report it to the police. Some have argued that what happened between Mr Johnson and Ms Symonds was private and should not have been reported. However, it would be a serious retrograde step if concerned neighbours felt they should not report their concerns because that might breach someone’s privacy. A large number domestic abuse incidents only come to the attention of the police because they are reported by concerned neighbours, and failing to report could put many victims at risk.

It is of course true that everyone is entitled to privacy in their own home, and we are not for one moment suggesting that anyone should pry into the private life of a neighbour. However, an altercation that is so loud that it can be heard by others is no longer private. We are not of course saying that anything untoward happened at Mr Johnson’s home, just that genuine concerns should be passed on to the authorities. Domestic abuse is a scourge that we all have a duty to address.

If you are a victim of domestic abuse then there are steps you can take to protect yourself. For a summary, see this post. For further information, please contact us. To book a free initial consultation, click the green button at the top of this page and fill in the form, or call us on 020 3904 0506.

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Image of Boris Johnson from Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

 

The Government has today published a draft Domestic Abuse Bill, aimed at supporting victims and their families, and pursuing offenders.

The draft Bill includes provisions to:

• introduce the first ever statutory government definition of domestic abuse, to specifically include economic abuse and controlling and manipulative non-physical abuse;

• establish a Domestic Abuse Commissioner to drive the response to domestic abuse issues;

• introduce new Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders to further protect victims and place restrictions on the actions of offenders; and

• prohibit the cross-examination of victims by their abusers in the family courts.

The proposed Bill is in response to a consultation on domestic abuse that the Government carried out last year.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid said:

“Domestic abuse shatters lives and tears families apart. It can happen anywhere, to anyone. Protecting victims, as well as supporting survivors, is at the heart of our strengthened response to this horrific crime. Our draft Domestic Abuse Bill and wider package of measures, unveiled today, will bolster the protection for victims and will help expose and bring the vile abusers to justice.”

Family Law Cafe welcomes the draft Bill, in particular the provision prohibiting the cross-examination of alleged victims by their alleged abusers in the family courts.

For further information about how you can protect yourself from domestic abuse, see this post. If you would like to know more about protecting yourself from domestic violence and abuse, or if you would like to apply for a court order, Family Law Café can help. To book an initial consultation with us click the green button at the top of this page and fill in the form, or call us on 020 3904 0506.

You can read the Government’s consultation response, including the draft Bill, here.

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Image: Domestic Violence by CMY Kane, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

In a speech given at the Law School, University of Edinburgh, on 20 March the President of the Family Division Sir James Munby outlined his views on the future of family courts, and reform of family law.

The speech, entitled Changing families: family law yesterday, today and tomorrow – a view from south of the Border, began with an outline of the history of family law in England and Wales since Victorian times. Sir James then moved on to what he called “perhaps the greatest challenge facing the family courts”. This, he said, was the need for family courts to become problem-solving courts, dealing with the underlying issues behind children disputes, rather than just deciding what should happen to the child in future. What was urgently required, he explained, was:

“…a fundamental re-balancing of the family court towards what ought to be its true role as a problem-solving court, engaging the therapeutic and other support systems that so many children and parents need.”

Sir James then concluded his speech “by examining a few of the parts of family law most pressingly in need of statutory reform.” These included the introduction of property rights for cohabitants, no-fault divorce, reform of the law relating to financial remedies on divorce, reform of the rules about access to and reporting of family cases (to counter the charge that we operate a system of secret justice), and giving judges the power to prevent  the cross-examination in person by alleged perpetrators of domestic violence of their alleged victims.

Family Law Cafe welcomes all of these ideas, and hopes that they come to fruition in the near future.

You can read the full speech here.

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Family Law Cafe offers a modern, agile and compassionate approach to family law, giving you a helping hand when you need it and guiding you through the complexities of this difficult and stressful area.

Image of Old College of Edinburgh University by Kim Traynor (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

The Home Office and Ministry of Justice have launched a consultation on domestic abuse, seeking views on measures to be included in the government’s forthcoming draft Domestic Abuse Bill.

The consultation, entitled ‘Transforming the Response to Domestic Abuse’, sets out the government’s proposed reforms to the law on domestic abuse, including:

• Introducing a new statutory definition of domestic abuse including (for example) economic abuse, to ensure that domestic abuse is properly understood.

• Creating a new Domestic Abuse Protection Order, to better shield victims against further abuse by enabling courts to impose a range of conditions on abusers, such as compulsory alcohol treatment and using electronic tagging to monitor them. Breaching the order would be a criminal offence.

•  Putting into law the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, which gives any member of the public the right to ask the police if their partner may pose a risk to them.

• Providing protection for alleged victims of abuse in court, for example by allowing them to give evidence behind a screen or via a video link.

•  Ensuring that sentencing of domestic abuse related offences duly recognises the devastating impact of domestic abuse on victims and any children involved.

Commenting upon the consultation Justice Secretary David Gauke said:

“The damage caused by domestic abuse can last a lifetime. We have a duty not only to support those affected but to prevent others falling victim in future.

“We continue to improve the way domestic abuse is dealt with throughout the justice system, but there is undoubtedly more we can do.

“By proposing to give courts greater powers, from a new protection order to tougher sentences, we are sending a clear message that domestic abuse in any form will not be tolerated.”

The consultation closes on the 31st of May. You can read it here. Family Law Cafe welcomes the consultation, and urges anyone who wishes to contribute their views to do so, here.

If you are the victim of domestic abuse you can find out how you can protect yourself, in this post.

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Image: Home Office and Ministry of Justice

To mark International Women’s Day tomorrow, the domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid has published Survival and Beyond: the domestic abuse report 2017, to celebrate “the extraordinary women who run the national network of refuges and outreach support services who help save the lives of women and their children who are experiencing domestic abuse every day.” The report looks at service provision and the needs of women and children who are victims of domestic abuse, including change over time from 2010 to 2017.

Amongst the findings in the report were that only 28% of women using community-based services (such as drop-in services and counselling support) reported domestic abuse to the police, while 43.7% who use refuges reported. Further, of those who reported, only 13.2% of the community-based service users and 17% of the women resident in refuge services said that there had been a criminal case or criminal sanctions taken against the perpetrator.

Commenting upon the figures Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, said:

“From our work with survivors, we know that it takes a lot of strength and courage for women to build up the confidence to report domestic abuse to the police.

“The police have made significant progress in transforming their response to tackling domestic abuse, but for some women the barriers to reporting to the police or proceeding with a prosecution will remain insurmountable.

“That’s why it is vital that all agencies, from healthcare to housing, make tackling domestic abuse their business.

“Our new findings show that very few women experiencing domestic abuse see any criminal justice outcomes in their cases and have limited involvement with the police, but they do access lifesaving support from specialist services.

“That’s why refuges and community-based support services are vital for survivors to be able to get the help they need, when and where they need it. These life-saving services are not an optional extra but an essential piece of the jigsaw in our response to domestic abuse.”

You can read the full report here and a summary of it here.

For information about how you can protect yourself from domestic violence and abuse, see this post.

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Family Law Cafe offers a modern, agile and compassionate approach to family law, giving you a helping hand when you need it and guiding you through the complexities of this difficult and stressful area.

Image: Women’s Aid

Confused by the jargon? Family law, just like all other areas of law, is full of legal jargon, so here are some plain English definitions for some of the terms that you are likely to come across if you are involved in family court proceedings:

Arbitration – A process whereby the parties agree that their case will be decided by a trained arbitrator. For further details, see this post.

Ancillary Relief – An older term for Financial Remedies – see below.

Cafcass – The ‘Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service’ – look after the interests of children involved in family court proceedings.

Child Arrangements Order – An order setting out arrangements relating to with whom a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact, and when a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with any person. For further details, see this post.

Clean Break – A financial settlement that dismisses all financial claims (in particular for maintenance) by either spouse against the other, thus achieving a ‘clean break’ between the parties.

Consent Order – A court order made with the agreement of both parties. Usually refers to an order setting out an agreed financial settlement following divorce. Note that the order must still be approved by the court, which is not obliged to approve it merely because the parties agree.

Co-Respondent – The person named by the Petitioner as having committed adultery with the Respondent. The Co-Respondent is a party to the divorce proceedings.

Cross Petition – A document filed by a Respondent to a divorce who wishes to defend the divorce and petition themselves, alleging that the breakdown of the marriage was due to a different reason to that alleged by the Petitioner.

Decree Absolute – The order finalising the divorce.

Decree Nisi – The order stating that the Petitioner (or the Respondent, in the case of a divorce proceeding on a cross petition) is entitled to the divorce.

Desertion – Separation without consent or good reason, and where the deserting spouse has no intention of returning. Desertion is actually very rare.

Directions – Orders of the court, usually setting out how the case will proceed.

Financial Dispute Resolution Appointment – A hearing within an financial remedies application, at which the parties should use their best endeavours to settle the matter by agreement, with the help of the judge.

Financial Remedies – The financial settlement in connection with divorce proceedings.

Injunction – An order requiring a party to do, or to refrain from doing, certain acts. In family law, most commonly refers to orders restraining domestic violence or abuse.

Irretrievable Breakdown (of marriage) – The ground for divorce. Must be shown by proving adultery, unreasonable behaviour (see below), two years’ desertion (see above), two years’ separation with the other party’s consent, or five years’ separation. For further details, see this post.

MIAM – A ‘Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting’. A meeting at which it is assessed whether the case is suitable for mediation (see below). In most cases, it is necessary to attend a MIAM before making an application to the court.

Mediation – A process whereby a trained mediator will help couples agree arrangements for children and/or a financial settlement.

Non-Resident Parent (‘NRP’) – The parent with whom the child or children is/are not residing. A term usually used in connection with child support.

Parental Responsibility – For an explanation of what parental responsibility means, see this post, and for details of how it is acquired, see this post.

Parent With Care (‘PWC’) – The parent with whom the child or children is/are living. A term usually used in connection with child support.

Periodical payments – Another term for maintenance.

Pension Sharing Order – An order transferring all or part of one party’s pension to the other party. For further information, see this post.

Pension Attachment Order – An order stating that one party will receive part of the other party’s pension when the other party receives it. Again, for further information, see this post.

Petitioner – The party who issues the divorce proceedings.

Property Adjustment Order – An order adjusting the ownership of matrimonial property, for example increasing a party’s share in the matrimonial home from 50% to 75%.

Respondent – The party who did not issue the proceedings. Note that the Respondent to an application for financial remedies could also be the Petitioner in the divorce proceedings.

Unreasonable Behaviour – Behaviour by one party such that the other party cannot reasonably be expected to live with them. This is one of the five ways of proving that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, for the purpose of divorce proceedings. For further details, see this post.

Without Prejudice – Words used in an offer of settlement to ensure that the offer cannot be shown to the court if it is not accepted. If the offer is accepted the protection of ‘without prejudice’ is gone.

Of course, if you are in any doubt as to what a word or phrase means, then you should seek legal advice.

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Family Law Cafe offers a modern, agile and compassionate approach to family law, giving you a helping hand when you need it and guiding you through the complexities of this difficult and stressful area.

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It has today been confirmed that the Prisons and Courts Bill will not be proceeded with, ahead of the dissolution of Parliament in the run-up to the general election.

The Bill would, amongst other things, have given courts the power to put an end to domestic violence victims being cross-examined by their alleged abusers in the family courts.

Outstanding government bills can be pushed through Parliament before dissolution, in a process known as ‘wash-up’, but this Bill still had too many stages to go through, as it had not yet been to the House of Lords.

There is, however, nothing to stop the Bill being resurrected by the new government, after the election.

Image: Big Ben + Houses Of Parliament, by Alex France, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Justice Secretary Liz Truss has announced that the government is giving courts the power to put an end to domestic violence victims being cross-examined by their alleged abusers in the family courts, calling time on what Ms Truss has described as a “humiliating and appalling” practice.

The move comes after an urgent review that Ms Truss commissioned last month, following a campaign by victim support groups. It will bring the family courts into line with the criminal courts, which have had a similar power for some time.

The provision will be included in the forthcoming Prisons and Courts Bill. Commenting upon the Bill Justice Minister Sir Oliver Heald said: “Victims and the most vulnerable are at the centre of our changes, which will help deliver swifter and more certain justice for all.”

If you have been the victim of domestic violence or abuse, Family Law Café can help. To contact us click the Contact link above and fill in the form, or call us on 0208 768 2278.

Image of Liz Truss by Policy Exchange, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Prime Minister Theresa May has announced plans for a major programme of work leading towards bringing forward a Domestic Violence and Abuse Act.

The programme of work will look at what more can be done to improve support for victims of domestic violence and abuse, especially in the way the law, and legal procedures, currently work for such victims. Experts in this area will be invited to contribute ideas and proposals for improving the way the system works which is likely to lead to legislation – making it much easier for law enforcement bodies to find and use more consistently the measures at their disposal. The Prime Minister will also ask for any potential ‘quick wins’ in the intervening period to be identified and acted upon.

The Prime Minister believes that the measures that come out of this work will raise public awareness of the problem – as well as encourage victims to report their abusers and see them brought to justice. She said: “Domestic violence and abuse is a life shattering and absolutely abhorrent crime; tackling it is a key priority for this government … I believe that the plans I have announced today have the potential to completely transform the way we think about and tackle domestic violence and abuse.”

Image: I Thought He Loved Me, by DualD FlipFlop, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Domestic violence and abuse can take many forms, including not just physical violence but also controlling and coercive behaviour, such as depriving the victim of financial support, restricting their independence, threatening or humiliating them.

What can you do if you are the victim of domestic violence or abuse?

Firstly you can report the matter to the police. The police should investigate the matter and can arrest, caution or charge the perpetrator. The police can also issue a Domestic Violence Protection Notice and then apply to the magistrates’ court for a Domestic Violence Protection Order, which can protect you from further abuse, and if you live with the perpetrator, ban them from returning to the home and contacting you. If the perpetrator does not keep to the Order, they can be arrested and brought before the court. A Domestic Violence Protection Order lasts for up to 28 days

You can also seek a court order against the perpetrator yourself. There are two types of court order that you can seek: a non-molestation order and an occupation order (both also known as ‘injunctions’). The non-molestation order prohibits the other party from molesting, harassing or pestering you, and the occupation order requires the other party to vacate or stay away from your home. There is no fixed length for a non-molestation order, but the court may not be able to make an occupation order that lasts for more than six months. In the case of either type of order, if the other party should breach the order then they may be committed to prison (breach of a non-molestation order is a criminal offence). Legal aid is available in connection with applying for these orders, subject to eligibility.

If you would like more information regarding protecting yourself from domestic violence and abuse, or if you would like to apply for an order, Family Law Café can help. To contact us click the Contact link above and fill in the form, or call us on 020 3904 0506.

Image: Domestic Violence by CMY Kane, licensed under CC BY 2.0.