Monday, April 14, 2008

Are new domestic violence laws failing?


The Times reports today that judges are concerned that the new domestic violence laws are not working, as there has been a marked decline in the number of victims seeking help since the laws were introduced last July. They put this down to a reluctance on the part of the victims to seek an order, for fear of giving their partners a criminal record and, potentially, a prison sentence. The concerns will be discussed at an urgent meeting between Sir Mark Potter and Jack Straw.

Meanwhile, the CPS has denied that prosecutions had dropped, although their latest figures pre-date the new laws.

If the judges are correct, it seems to me that there are three possible explanations for the estimated reduction of 25% in the number of victims seeking non-molestation orders:
  • That the judges are right that victims fear giving their partners a criminal record and, potentially, a prison sentence - although under the old law victims should have been aware that a prison term was likely if the perpetrator should breach the order.
  • That there has been a marked decrease in the incidence of domestic violence since last July - extremely unlikely, as the report mentions, particularly as few perpetrators would even be aware of the new laws.
  • Dare I say it, that the old law was abused by some people who were not really victims of domestic violence - they simply wanted to get their partners out of the house - but now they are reluctant to go to court because of the more serious criminal implications.

6 comments:

  1. I suspect if there has been a decline it may be down to a combination of all the explanations set out. And possibly these also:
    1. Difficulties in finding a legal aid solicitor (or any solicitor able to down tools and take emergency action). I know for certain that some victims find it difficult to get legal representation - often having to ring around numerous solicitors or contemplate long journeys to see them.

    2. More people going straight to the police (and the police actually doing something as opposed to simply saying "you need an injunction"). It would be interesting to see if the police are actually prosecuting more.

    3. Maybe people have lost faith in the law/have a more realistic view of the law. I'm certain a lot of people applied to the court not fully realising the opponent had the right to defend injunction proceedings. With the increased penalties and the inability to give undertakings, it may be that victims are realising that lengthy and costly proceedings lie ahead. They know their opponent will not (or cannot) simply roll over.

    Also I would like to see the timescale over which the reduction has occurred - was it really since last July? I have noticed a downturn that predates last July.

    Paul

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  2. Thanks for that. I suspect all three of your points may be valid. As to timescale, I'm not really able to comment - I've not done legal aid work for several years, and very few people pay privately for an injunction, so I don't really notice trends. Interesting, nevertheless - if there has been a downturn, what is the reason? I suspect your points 1 and 2.

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  3. Whilst not necessarily linked to the change in legislation, I have certainly identified a greater willingness on the part of the police to charge for assault, criminal damage or harassment and of the Magistrates Court to impose bail conditions frequently preventing the alleged perpetrator from returning home.

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  4. Yes, I'm sure that's the case, and has been for some time, as indicated by Paul.

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  5. Family Law promotes false allegations because in effect there are 'no' sanctions against those that perjure themselves to gain advantage over the children and finances.

    In Criminal Law there is always the possibility that false allegations will end up with sanctions against the person who makes false allegations.

    That explains the drop.

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  6. It is certainly not the case that there are no sanctions against perjury in the family courts, but I take your point.

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