Weekly Family Law Update March 4, 2020

Domestic abuse and a compensation award: The last week in family law Tougher sentence for domestic abuser

The Solicitor General has
succeeded in an appeal against a lenient sentence given to a man convicted of controlling
and coercive behaviour towards his former partner. In what is believed to be
the first case of its kind, the Solicitor General took advantage of the
expanded unduly lenient sentence scheme, which allows victims or members of the
public to ask the Attorney General to consider referring a sentence to the
Court of Appeal for reconsideration, if they believe it is too lenient. The man
was sentenced to a 24-month community order at Taunton Crown Court last
December, after it had been found that between July and September 2019 he was
regularly violent towards his former partner, including stabbing her in the leg
with a penknife on one occasion and smashing her head against a windscreen on
another. However, the Solicitor General Michael Ellis QC argued before the
Court of Appeal that that sentence was too lenient. The Court of Appeal agreed,
and replaced the sentence with a three year term of imprisonment. Mr Ellis
commented: ““This is the first [case] of its type and it’s particularly
important to send a message that this type [of] behaviour, which was graphic,
which was prolonged, which was pernicious, must be met with appropriate
criminal sanction. It’s a matter of public policy that this type of appalling
domestic abuse, including violence, should be met with a sentence that the
general public would expect, namely one of imprisonment, and I’m pleased the
Court of Appeal has increased the sentence accordingly.”

Woman awarded compensation for sacrificing career

A woman who “sacrificed”
her career as a solicitor so that she could look after her children has been
awarded £400,000 compensation by a family court. The couple had met at a law
firm where the husband was an associate solicitor and the wife was an in-house
lawyer. They became engaged and the woman left the firm, devoting her time
instead to the family. The couple had two children and were married for ten
years. Hearing the financial remedies case Mr Justice Moor found that the wife
had stood a ‘very good chance’ of becoming a partner at the firm. Accordingly,
he found sufficient ‘relationship-generated disadvantage’ to justify awarding
the wife compensation, in addition to a half share of the couple’s assets of
nearly £10 million. However, Mr Justice Moor made clear that the judgment
should not open the floodgates for other spouses to make similar claims, saying
“I have already made the point that, in many of these cases, the assets will be
such that any loss is already covered by the applicant’s sharing claim. In
other cases, the assets/income will be insufficient to justify such a claim in
the first place. It follows that litigants should think long and hard before
launching a claim for relationship-generated disadvantage and they should not
take this judgment as any sort of ‘green light’ to do so unless the circumstances
are truly exceptional.”

Enhanced Domestic Abuse Bill introduced to Parliament

The government has set out
an enhanced version of the landmark Domestic Abuse Bill to Parliament, which it
says will go even further to support and protect victims and punish
perpetrators. The Bill is described as “the most comprehensive package ever to
tackle this horrendous crime”, and has been widely welcomed by charities and
stakeholders. The Bill includes new measures, such as requiring tier one local
authorities (county councils and unitary authorities) in England to provide
support and ensure safe accommodation for victims and their children. The bill
will also improve on the previous pledge to ban abusers from cross-examining
their victims in the family courts, to apply to all family proceedings where
there is evidence of domestic abuse. Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for
Justice Robert Buckland said: “This bill will bolster our response to domestic
abuse on every level – strengthening protections for victims, whilst ensuring
perpetrators feel the full force of the law. From giving courts greater powers
through new prevention orders, to barring abusers from cross-examining their
victim in the family courts, we are delivering a justice system more resilient
than ever to the tackle this horrific crime.”