Weekly Family Law Update January 28, 2021

Domestic abuse, similar fact evidence and child abuse

Domestic Abuse Bill progresses

The Government’s Domestic Abuse Bill has received its second reading in the House of Lords.

The purpose of the Bill is to raise awareness and understanding of domestic abuse and its impact on victims, to further improve the effectiveness of the justice system in providing protection for victims of domestic abuse and bringing perpetrators to justice, and to strengthen the support for victims of abuse and their children provided by other statutory agencies.

The main provisions in the Bill include a statutory definition of domestic abuse, the establishment of a Domestic Abuse Commissioner, and the banning of alleged abusers from cross-examining their alleged victims in court.

The Law Society has called for the Bill to go even further in its protections. Law Society President David Greene said some proposals do not go far enough, for example alleged abusers should also be banned from examining certain other witnesses, such as the couple’s children, in court.

The Lords also heard that GPs are able to charge the victims of domestic abuse over £150 for a letter confirming their injuries to enable the victim to get access to legal aid and other services. British Medical Association guidance is that there should be no charge for these letters, but unfortunately some GPs ignore that advice and charge victims.

The Bill will pass to the committee stage in the House of Lords, where it will be examined line-by-line. The committee stage is scheduled to begin on the 25th of January.

Father’s abuse of two women ‘strikingly similar’

A father who was applying for contact with his children has been found to have subjected both the mother and another woman with whom he subsequently had a relationship to ‘strikingly similar’ patterns of abuse.

The abuse that the mother complained of included extreme coercive and controlling behaviour, included alienating her from friends and family, and sexual abuse. She asked the court to take into account ‘similar fact’ evidence of abuse by the father upon the other woman. Initially the court refused to accept the similar fact evidence, but this decision was overruled by the Court of appeal.

The High Court has now considered all of the evidence, and Mr Justice Hayden found that the two cases “together served to illuminate the sinister, domineering and, frequently, tyrannising complexion of [the father’s] behaviour, to a degree which would not have been fully appreciated had the cases been severed. It is the chilling repetition of identical behaviours, with two very different women of different age and background, which casts evidential light and does so in each individual case.”

He concluded: “I consider [the father] to be a profoundly dangerous young man, dangerous to women who he identifies as vulnerable and dangerous to children.”

Rise in suspected child abuse cases following lockdown

New figures from the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel, which commissions reviews of serious child safeguarding cases, indicate that the number of reported incidents of children dying or being seriously harmed after suspected abuse or neglect rose by a quarter after England’s first lockdown last year.

The Panel received 285 serious incident notifications from April to September, an increase of 27% from 225 in the same period the previous year.

The Children’s Society described the figures as “shocking”.

Iryna Pona, policy manager at the Society, said: “During the first lockdown many vulnerable children were stuck at home in difficult, sometimes dangerous situations, often isolated from friends and support networks … they were often hidden from view of professionals like social workers and teachers who are best placed to spot the signs if they may be in danger.”