This week’s family law stories included some welcome good news on the subject of domestic abuse:
The Office for National Statistics has published the latest crime survey for England and Wales, for the year ending March 2015. The survey estimated that 8.2 per cent of women and 4.0 per cent of men reported experiencing any type of domestic abuse in the last year (that is, partner/ex-partner abuse (non-sexual), family abuse (non-sexual) and sexual assault or stalking carried out by a current or former partner or other family member). This is equivalent to an estimated 1.3 million female victims and 600,000 male victims. Other findings included that there were 6.5 per cent of women and 2.8 per cent of men who reported having experienced any type of partner abuse in the last year, equivalent to an estimated 1.1 million female victims and 500,000 male victims. In addition, 27.1 per cent of women and 13.2 per cent of men had experienced domestic abuse since the age of 16, equivalent to an estimated 4.5 million female victims and 2.2 million male victims. Overall, however, the survey found that domestic violence was at its lowest level since the survey began – a hopeful sign.
Further good news on domestic abuse has come from the Court of Appeal’s declaration that the regulations for obtaining legal aid in cases of domestic violence are legally flawed. The regulations have prevented victims of domestic abuse from obtaining legal aid even when it is clear violence has occurred, according to campaign group Rights of Women who brought the appeal. Giving the leading judgment Lord Justice Longmore said that the regulations were invalid insofar as they require verifications of domestic violence to be given within a 24 month period before any application for legal aid, and do not cater for victims of domestic violence who have suffered from financial abuse.
Still on the subject of domestic abuse, a new programme has been announced under which men who pose a high risk of domestic violence are to be given one-to-one support to change their behaviour. The programme, known as ‘Drive’ is backed by domestic abuse charities SafeLives and Respect and will be piloted in Essex, Sussex and South Wales. The programme is aimed at dangerous offenders, including those thought to be at risk of causing serious harm or committing murder. They will be offered support to tackle any alcohol, drug or mental health problems they may have, along with advice about employment, housing and parenting. Those who refuse to co-operate will apparently be monitored closely by the police. The programme has been criticised by domestic violence charity Refuge, which said that there was “no evidence” therapy for violent partners was effective. That may or may not be true, but surely it is worth a try?
Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth, the Show Minister without Portfolio, has declared the government’s tax break scheme for married couples an “utter flop” after just 8 per cent of those eligible for the allowance have applied. The scheme allows couples to transfer part of their £1,060 personal tax allowance to their spouse or civil partner and is worth up to £212 per year, or approximately £4 per week. The tax break, which came into force in April 2015, was originally expected to be used by millions of couples. However, so far it has only been taken up by 332,301 couples, approximately 8 percent of all those who are eligible. So much for social engineering…
I will conclude with two notable decisions that have caught the attention this week.
The first decision has not been the subject of a law report, but it did make the headlines in the national media. It concerned an Inheritance Act claim by a woman against her late cohabitee’s estate. Joy Williams lived with her partner Norman Martin for 18 years but Mr Martin never divorced his wife. In 2009 Ms Williams and Mr Martin jointly purchased a property as ‘tenants in common’, which meant that when he died in 2012 his half share did not automatically pass to her, but rather to his wife. Ms Williams therefore made a claim against Mr Martin’s estate, seeking a full interest in the house. Judge Nigel Gerald at the Central London County Court ruled in her favour. The case has led to further calls for the reform of cohabitation laws, something I wrote about here on Tuesday.
The other decision was the subject of a law report, all 195 paragraphs of it. AB v CD concerned an application by a husband to have a consent order set aside on the basis of material non-disclosure by the wife. The particular point in issue related to the value of the wife’s company and whether she should have disclosed a substantial investment in the company that could have increased its value significantly. Mrs Justice Roberts held that she should, and therefore set aside the consent order. The total legal costs of the proceedings are said to be approaching an eye-watering £1 million. Ouch.
Have a good weekend.