Will Government cuts put domestic violence victims at increased risk?
International 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:
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.
Image credit: Bill Sikes by Fred Barnard.
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Marilyn Stowe is the senior partner in Stowe Family Law, which has offices in Yorkshire, Cheshire and London. With more than 30 years’ experience handling divorce cases and family law proceedings she is regarded as one of the most formidable and sought after divorce lawyers in the UK. In 2012, Marilyn became one of the first solicitors to qualify as a family law arbitrator.
All persons mentioned in the scenarios are fictitious: details have been deliberately changed in order to protect identities and other confidential circumstances of my clients. All advice and information on this blog including posts written by guest authors, is given only as a general guide to the operation of the law on the date of publication. Readers must place no reliance whatsoever on the content of this blog and must always obtain their own legal advice. Marilyn Stowe, Stowe Family Law LLP and guest authors accept no liability whatsoever arising as a result of reliance upon its content.
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