Weekly Family Law Update December 12, 2020

Stalking link to domestic abuse and early divorce advice

Stalking analysis reveals domestic abuse link

The Crown Prosecution Service (‘CPS’) has reported that stalking is increasingly being recognised as a form of domestic abuse within the criminal justice system, with CPS analysis finding that the majority of offences are committed by ex-partners.  A record 2,288 charges were brought in 2019-20 – more than double the number five years previously.  The CPS say that this is partly driven by better recognition among police and prosecutors of stalking as part of a wider pattern of domestic abuse.

CPS analysis of stalking prosecutions this year – the first exercise of its kind – found that most offences were committed by abusive ex-partners .  Of stalking cases sampled at random from across England and Wales, 84 per cent involved complaints against ex-partners and three-quarters reported domestic abuse had previously occurred during the relationship.

The data is being released to mark the UN’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.  Joanna Coleman, CPS national lead for stalking prosecutions, said:

“Stalking is an abhorrent offence which leaves victims traumatised, humiliated and often in genuine fear of their lives.

“I am very encouraged to see our work in this area reflected in a record number of stalking prosecutions, however we recognise there is always more to be done.

“My message to stalking and domestic abuse victims is this – no matter the coronavirus restrictions in place, the CPS and criminal justice system is open for business and we will treat your case as high priority.”

Resolution calls for early legal advice for divorcees

Resolution, the association of family lawyers, has called upon the Government to improve access to early legal advice for divorcing couples.  The call follows the publication of the results of a new survey commissioned by Resolution, which found that 41 per cent of those who divorced within the last five years suffered mental health episodes including depression and anxiety.

This figure represents a significant worsening of people’s experience of divorce, as the corresponding rates for people who divorced longer than five years ago found 29 per cent of them reported poor mental health.

The survey also found that the number of those divorcing with little or no legal assistance increased from 35 per cent among those who divorced over five years ago, to 57 per cent among those who got divorced within the last 5 years. This increase clearly appears to be linked to the abolition of legal aid for most divorce cases in 2013.

The findings have prompted calls for greater support for divorcing couples, as the survey also found that 63 per cent of all divorcees surveyed felt that having early access to professional advice would have improved their personal experience.

Juliet Harvey, the National Chair of Resolution, commented:

“In recent years we’ve witnessed a toxic storm where families cannot access professional advice and where people are representing themselves in court often reaching outcomes that are far from amicable. This poll shows that as well as driving up conflict, this can be damaging to the wellbeing of everyone involved, especially children.

“We know that early professional advice not only helps those facing separation make the most informed decisions for them and their families, it can also save the taxpayer money. Family breakdown costs taxpayers an estimated £51bn each year, and for every £1 spent on legal aid in family cases, £5 is saved elsewhere.

“Funding for early advice will reduce pressure on taxpayers, on our overloaded family courts, and more importantly, on separating families across England and Wales. Today’s findings should act as a wake-up call to Government.”