In Her Majesty the Queen’s speech in June 2017 the Government committed to bringing forward legislation ‘to protect the victims of domestic violence and abuse’.
Part of this proposed reform was put into action on January 8th this year when the Ministry of Justice relaxed the evidence requirements to qualify for legal aid in divorce and child arrangement cases following separation. But a leading Wrexham family lawyer has warned more publicity is needed in order to reduce the number of victims who shut up, put up and stay married because they are unaware they could get legal aid and believe they cannot afford the cost of divorce.
“Nathan Wright, a partner and head of the Family department at the Wrexham head office of leading law firm GHP Legal, said: “Victims of abuse need to know that help is available and they need to consult with an experienced family lawyer as soon as possible to see if, subject to their means, they qualify for legal aid.
“The changes to evidence requirements in private family law disputes that came into effect on 8th January 2018 mean there will no longer be a time limit on abuse evidence, which previously stood at five years. Additionally, the range of documents accepted as evidence of abuse has been widened to include statements from domestic violence support organisations and housing support officers.”
The cross-government definition of domestic violence and abuse is any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members. This is regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to, psychological, physical, sexual, financial and emotional abuse.
Controlling behaviour is defined as a range of acts designed to make someone subordinate or dependent by isolation from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacity for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour. Coercive behaviour relates to assaults, threats, intimidation and other abuse deliberately applied to harm, punish or frighten someone.
“Any family lawyer will be able to fully explain the definitions of domestic violence and abuse and check if they apply in individual cases,” says Nathan Wright, “and victims should not be afraid to approach them for advice. Evidence of child abuse may also be used in order to qualify for legal aid.”
In the year ending March 2017 the Crime Survey for England and Wales revealed that an estimated 1.9 million adults aged 16 to 59 years experienced domestic abuse. Only 1.1 million domestic abuse-related incidents and crimes were however recorded by the police and only 46 arrests per 100 domestic abuse-related crimes were recorded across 39 police forces in the year ending June 2017.
Domestic abuse is often a hidden crime that is not reported to the police, which is why the estimated number of victims is much higher than the number of incidents and crimes recorded by the police. Of the cases which do come to the attention of the police, many, although still recorded as incidents and dealt with as required, will fall short of notifiable offences and are therefore not recorded as crimes.