Domestic abuse, a sick child, and child maintenance: The last week in family law

The Domestic Abuse Bill, which will introduce a
comprehensive package of measures to tackle domestic abuse, has had its second
reading in the House of Commons. In the course of the debate Labour MP Rosie
Duffield gave a harrowing account of her personal experience of domestic abuse.
She said: “Domestic violence has many faces and the faces of those who survive
it are varied too. Sometimes there are no bruises. Abuse is very often all
about control and power.” She described how she had suffered verbal abuse,
humiliation and financial control at the hands of her former partner, including
a repeating pattern of reward, punishment, promises of happy ever after,
alternating with abject rage, menace, silent treatment and coercive control.
Eventually the abuse spilled out in public, with him shouting at her at
constituency events, which she said was extremely humiliating. She was only
able to bring an end to the abuse by taking away her partner’s house keys,
thereby locking him out of her home. John Bercow, the Speaker of the House,
said that Ms Duffield’s speech had been “simultaneously horrifying and as
moving a contribution” as he had heard in his 22 years in the Commons.

To coincide with the second reading of the Domestic Abuse
Bill Age UK, the UK’s largest charity for older people, has called on the
Government to make sure the voices of older people are heard, their rights are
protected, and their needs included in future legislation addressing domestic
abuse. The call followed the publication of a report by the charity which found
that in 2017 over 200,000 people aged 60 to 74 experienced domestic abuse in
England and Wales, and that one in four victims of domestic homicides are over
the age of 60. The charity says that reluctance or inability to report abuse by
loved ones or carers means that the true figure is likely to be much higher. The
figures come from the National Crime Survey, which does not record data for
people over the age of 74. Age UK’s charity director, Caroline Abrahams,
commented: “There’s a widespread misconception that domestic abuse only happens
to younger people but sadly hundreds of thousands of older people are affected,
too. It’s high time that this was fully recognised by the law, policy and
practice so that the needs of older survivors can be identified and properly
met.”

The High Court has ruled that the parents of a brain-damaged
girl should be allowed to take her abroad to continue her treatment. Five-year-old
Tafida Raqeeb has been on life support at the Royal London Hospital since she
suffered a traumatic brain injury in February. Her parents wish to take her to
the Gaslini children’s hospital in Genoa, Italy, for further treatment, but UK
specialists had argued that any further treatment would be futile. Barts Health
NHS Trust, which runs the Royal London Hospital, had asked the judge to rule
that ending Tafida’s life-support was in her best interests. However, Mr
Justice MacDonald refused to make such a ruling and instead ruled that there
was no justification to stop the child being taken abroad.

And finally, the House of Commons has held a Westminster
Hall debate regarding the performance of the Child Maintenance Service in
recovering payments from absent parents, led by SNP MP Peter Grant. Opening the
debate, Mr Grant said: “I see too many cases in which it is obvious that a
parent is determined to avoid their responsibilities and that they can get away
with it—sometimes for years at a time—which is just not good enough. It is far
too easy, for example, to hide income from the Child Maintenance Service, which
too often leaves it to the resident parent to produce the evidence that their
ex-partner is effectively committing fraud. That is bad enough at the best of
times, but if the resident parent has been the victim of domestic abuse or
financially coercive and controlling behaviour, it is wholly unacceptable to
make them responsible for ensuring that the other parent of their children
complies with their legal responsibilities.” Justin Tomlinson, on behalf of the
government, responded by saying that collection and enforcement of child
maintenance obligations had improved.