Will Government cuts put domestic violence victims at increased risk?

legal aid & domestic violenceInternational Women’s Day, on 8 March, celebrated the political, social and economic achievements of women. I was invited to appear on BBC Radio York on the day, to discuss if women really can “have it all”.

Certainly, the stress and pressure of juggling work and family can exact a toll. My attitude, when my son Ben was growing up, was that here was a battle to be fought and won. I was also acutely aware that I was exceptionally fortunate; not just because of the support I received from my husband and others, but also because of my stable home life. There are other women who do not enjoy such privileges. Perhaps their families were unplanned; perhaps they go out to work but still find it difficult to make ends meet. And what about the woman who, instead of receiving support from her partner, must endure continued violence?

When this family law firm was first founded, more than 25 years ago in a converted cobblers’ shop in Leeds, I took on legal aid clients and worked with many such women. Back then, divorce favoured men and the female clients who came to me were in truly desperate situations. It’s a reason why I built my firm: a woman representing women. My female clients were often mothers of several children, victims of domestic abuse, or had been deserted by their husbands. And yet I found that the abused women would frequently return to their husbands, because they and their children had nowhere else to go and there was insufficient provision and protection for them by the law.

It was a long time ago now and the provision for abuse victims has since improved. However I was reminded of those old clients when I read a letter from Judith Timms in The Times this week:

Legal aid cuts and domestic violence - The Times

Her letter highlights the shameful events that are taking place in our country right now. Is our Government becoming defined by its rank hypocrisy? Legal aid ensures that the most vulnerable and needy in society are given access to justice, and regular readers know my thoughts about the proposed cuts to legal aid provision.

On International Women’s Day, leaked documents showed that Britain is trying to “water down” an international agreement to protect women against domestic and sexual violence. Our Government is arguing that violence against women should not be regarded as a violation of human rights, and that the draft agreement should apply only in “peacetime”.

Has Britain, once a champion of women’s rights, substantially diluted its support?

In her letter to The Times, Judith Timms also focuses upon the proposed redefinition of domestic violence:

“The definition of domestic violence is to be so tightly drawn that it will include only cases where there have been criminal orders of non-molestation or occupation, and these are a very small number of the total applications.”

The narrowed definition of domestic violence will, effectively, save the Government money by locking vulnerable women and their children out of the legal aid system.

Could this be the reason that the Government is unable to sign up to the original deal negotiated at the Council of Europe? Are desperate women are to be placed at risk as a cost-cutting measure? If so, isn’t it shocking?

Access to the courts and the help of skilled lawyers has, over the years, helped protect and keep safe thousands of the most vulnerable members of our society. Judith Timms concludes that if the Government proceeds with its plans, decisions may be made that do not reflect the risks faced by victims of domestic violence. In my opinion, that is an understatement.

I have blogged countless times about my fear that family law is set to return to the Victorian era. Now it is Dickens’ horrible tale of Bill Sikes and Nancy that comes to mind.

Image credit: Bill Sikes by Fred Barnard.

Marilyn Stowe

The senior partner at Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known divorce lawyers with clients throughout the country, in Europe, the Far East and the USA.

View more from this author

4 comments

Tim - March 12, 2011 at 2:54pm

When half of all victims of Domestic Violence are men (fathers) – Why do male victims of DV have little or no chance of getting Legal Aid under the present system that only recognises female victims or alleged victims?

Any one who talks about domestic violence and only mentions female victims cannot possibly be taken seriously as their own prejudices are revealed immediately to all and sundry. DV is a people issue not a female issue.

Any one who has an open mind and is not biased (as many are institutionalised biased in the family law system) will recognise that the vast majority of the claims from mothers in family law are generally baseless and what’s more they are just as likely to be perpetrators of abuse as they fathers they accuse.

Keep Legal Aid for domestic violence and use it only in the Criminal Courts where at least they have some expertise in these matters and do not rely totally on the bias’s and prejudices of individual family law judges and there entourage, who make nonsensical decisions behind closed doors day every day in the institutionalised biased family courts.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/sep/05/men-victims-domestic-violence

More than 40% of domestic violence victims are male, report reveals Campaign group Parity claims assaults by wives and girlfriends are often ignored by police and media

Assaults on men represent more than 40% of domestic violence in the UK. Photograph: Sakki/Rex Features/Sakki/rex About two in five of all victims of domestic violence are men, contradicting the widespread impression that it is almost always women who are left battered and bruised, a new report claims.

Men assaulted by their partners are often ignored by police, see their attacker go free and have far fewer refuges to flee to than women, says a study by the men’s rights campaign group Parity.

Marilyn Stowe - March 14, 2011 at 1:00pm

I agree that violence in the home isn’t one way. I have represented several men who have been systematically abused, bullied and subjected to violence by their partners.
The article was written in the context of International ‘Women’s’ Day and so I siezed upon that opportunity to comment on the narrowing of the definition of domestic violence and the cuts to legal aid, which of course affect both sexes.

Gaia - August 4, 2011 at 10:48pm

“At the outset, I want to define what I mean by domestic violence. In recent years there has been much debate and confusion over the commonly accepted definition of domestic violence, such that some consider it unacceptable to speak of domestic violence without specifying the type of partner violence to which one refers.
This is because the most controversial issue within the often acrimonious debate on domestic violence is whether there is a gender dimension to the phenomenon, or whether men and women have similar experiences of victimisation and perpetration of intimate partner violence. As a researcher from Australia recently said, ―the extent to which gender plays a role in intimate heterosexual partner violence remains one of the most hotly (and continuously) contested issues in the field.”
http://www.justice.govt.nz/courts/family-court/publications/speeches-and-papers/AFCC%20Whats%20gender%20got%20to%20do%20with%20it.pdf

Lukey - August 8, 2011 at 12:50am

Gaia,
I read the article that you have linked to, it seems to me they didn’t like the results they were getting so tried to reframe their view of what ‘real’ domestic violence is that it can be all men’s fault again.

Leave a comment