As one might expect at this time of year, it has been a pretty quiet week (or so if you include the Xmas and New Year period) for family law news. Here are the most interesting stories I came up with:
The first story relates to a new scheme being piloted by Harrow Council whereby victims of domestic violence will discuss their abuse face-to-face with the perpetrators. The idea, which is based on a US model, is that this may help to break the cycle of violence. The council, we are told, believes that it can tackle domestic violence by bringing couples together in a “supportive environment” to discuss its impact. The programme will be run by psychotherapists and counsellors from the Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships who will work with the families to find the triggers for the abuse. As one might expect, the scheme has been greeted with scepticism by some women’s groups. Sarah Green, acting director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, is quoted as saying: “The assumption in such couple counselling approaches tends to be that both parties must be at fault and they simply need to learn better behaviours. Domestic violence is about bullying and control, not misunderstanding. It is a choice, and it is deeply related to power between men and women.” Still, it is an interesting idea – hopefully in due course we will get some feedback as to how successful it has been.
Still on the subject of domestic violence, a new criminal offence of coercive or controlling behaviour came into force on the 29th of December. The offence will mean that victims who experience the type of behaviour that stops short of serious physical violence, but amounts to extreme psychological and emotional abuse, can bring their perpetrators to justice. This type of abuse in an intimate or family relationship can include a pattern of threats, humiliation and intimidation, or behaviour such as stopping a partner socialising, controlling their social media accounts, surveillance through apps and dictating what they wear. Controlling or coercive behaviour must cause someone either to fear that violence will be used against them on at least two occasions, or serious alarm or distress which has a substantial effect on their usual day-to-day activities. The offence will carry a maximum of five years’ imprisonment, a fine or both. Let us hope that it helps to deal with the scourge of domestic violence.
Moving on, the 4th of January, the first day back at work after the Xmas/New Year break (at least for most people), was ‘Divorce Day’, the day upon which lawyers apparently receive more new divorce instructions than any other day. Whether or not Divorce Day is a real phenomenon or simply something made up by the media (encouraged by lawyers seeking to advertise their services) is an argument that will no doubt run and run amongst family lawyers, and one that I will not get into here. What I will say, however, is that it is not necessarily good publicity for lawyers, and that any lawyer seeking to use it for their advantage should tread carefully.
Lastly, a worrying case that hit the headlines over the last week or so, although the judgment was handed down at the end of November. Re D and R (Children), concerned care proceedings in relation to two siblings, aged 9 and 5. In the course of his judgment His Honour Judge Clifford Bellamy seriously criticised the local authority, Leicester City Council, for allowing a young boy to spend at least two years living with a relative who was a convicted paedophile. Judge Bellamy said staff at the council had not undertaken a robust risk assessment of the man, despite him having served a jail term after admitting sexually abusing a girl, and he also said that they had lacked any sense of urgency in bringing the proceedings. He ordered that the boy should be removed from his family and placed into foster care.
Have a good weekend.