Rampant spread, fuelled by a combination of a new variant that is around 50-70% more transmissible, plus a lifting of restrictions at the beginning of December, brings us into another national lockdown.
In many ways, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s first address of 2021 felt unpleasantly like a return to early 2020.
The original “Stay Home” messaging made a comeback. The Prime Minister was deliberately vague about how long lockdown would last. Big Brother Watch criticised the government for “yet again … evading the democratic process” by denying MPs a meaningful vote on the new national restrictions prior to their televised announcement to the nation, or their coming into force. The new guidance differs from the Tier 4 guidance in emphasis, if not substance.
Ever the optimist, the Prime Minister was keen to emphasise “one huge difference” between this lockdown and the first one: the UK is “rolling out the biggest vaccination programme in its history”. He also managed to get in a jab at the UK having delivered more vaccines than the rest of Europe combined.
There were other, more subtle differences, as No. 10 tweaked its messaging in light of past mistakes.
Together with anti-racism protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, the coronavirus pandemic has continued to dominate the news. Two recently published reports have highlighted flaws in the government’s response in relation to the provision of social security and domestic abuse support during the crisis.
According to Jewish religious law, if a husband refuses to grant his wife a divorce (a “get”) she has no recourse to the Jewish authorities for a certificate and must either be content with a civil divorce, or remain a “chained woman” or “argunot”. One of the consequences of this system is that any child she may have by a subsequent relationship is considered a “manner”, or illegitimate.
For the first time in legal history Anthony Metzer QC of Goldsmith’s Chambers has used the secular criminal law to persuade a recalcitrant husband to grant his client a “get”, the threat of a prosecution for the offence of coercive and controlling behaviour leading to a maximum prison sentence of five years. This is a fascinating breakthrough and has implications not only for other “chained women” in Jewish communities but in the wider world of religious traditions where women are often the victim of unfair religious laws.
Rosalind English discusses the implications of this case with Mr Metzer QC in this week’s episode (No. 103) of Law Pod UK. You may want to refresh your memories on the use of the offence of criminal and coercive behaviour in proceedings in the family courts by listening to Rosalind’s interview with Clare Ciborowska of 1 Crown Office Row in Episode 43.
The European Court of Human Rights continues to make it clear that a failure by member states to protect people from domestic violence is likely to cross the high hurdle of the prohibition on degrading and inhumane treatment under Article 3.” It isn’t all about women. In the latest decision, Affaire Buturuga v Romania (App No. 56867/15), (available only in French) the Court found a breach of articles 3 and 8 in respect of a failure to investigate adequately and/or take action on complaints of domestic violence and awarded €10,000 general damages.
J.D. and A v the United Kingdom (nos. 32949/17 and 34614/17) – read judgment
Much may have changed in the political world since the Coalition Government introduced its controversial ‘bedroom tax’, but the legal fall-out from the policy continues. The European Court of Human Rights has delivered its verdict on the compatibility of the scheme with the prohibition on discrimination set out in Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Strasbourg Court has found that the policy discriminated unlawfully against women at risk of domestic violence.
As is well known, in 2012 the United Kingdom government introduced new regulations with the effect that those in social housing with an ‘extra’ bedroom had their housing benefit reduced: the so-called ‘bedroom tax’. The purported aim of the policy was to save money and to incentivise those with an ‘extra’ bedroom to either move property or take in a lodger thereby resulting in a saving of public funds.
It is not difficult to imagine why someone might have an extra bedroom but have strong reasons (related to disability or gender) for not moving house. The Government sought to make provision for such cases through a discretionary scheme operated by local authorities but funded by central government.
The bill introduces the first statutory definition of domestic abuse, which encompasses financial and emotional abuse as well as coercive and controlling behaviour. It would prohibit perpetrators from cross-examining their victims in court, impose polygraph tests on high-risk offenders as a condition of release, and create new powers to force perpetrators into rehabilitation programmes. Among other new protections for victims, the bill would make domestic abuse complainants automatically eligible for special measures in the criminal courts. It would also establish a new “office of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner” tasked with improving response and support for victims across public services.
Domestic violence is a major human rights issue which can deprive women of their rights to health and physical and mental integrity, freedom from torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, and the right to life. The bill has been welcomed by some as a significant step towards combatting the issue . However, writing in the Guardian, Julie Bindel criticises the new measure as “impossible to implement” and likely to be “misued by vindictive men” and “misunderstood by those tasked with protecting women”.
R (on the application of Rights of Women) v Secretary of State for Justice  EWHC 35 (Admin) – read judgment
Neil Sheldon and Alasdair Henderson (instructed by The Treasury Solicitor) acted for the Defendant in this case. They have nothing to do with the writing of this post.
The campaign group Rights of Women has been unsuccessful in its judicial review of Regulation 33 of the Civil Legal Aid (Procedure) Regulations 2012 (as amended) which sets out the list of documents which will be accepted as evidence that a legal aid applicant has suffered or is at risk of suffering domestic violence. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) purports to retain legal aid for victims of domestic violence. However, such funding is only available where at least one of the documents listed in Regulation 33 is submitted to the Legal Aid Agency. Continue reading →
The Court of Appeal has taken the unusual step of reversing a denial of contact order, by reviewing the question of the proportionality of the order in relation to the children’s right to family life under Article 8.
The appellant father appealed against the refusal of his application for contact with his three young sons. He had a history of violence and previous criminal convictions all but one of which, though distant in time, related to violent behaviour, including causing grievous bodily harm with intent. Following repeated episodes of abuse, which was often witnessed by the boys, the mother had left the family home with the children and had taken up accommodation in a women’s refuge. She voiced fears of their abduction out of the jurisdiction and her own personal safety to the extent of “honour based” violence and death at the hands or instigation of the father. When he applied for contact Cushing J found that the father had minimised his behaviour and blamed the mother as the victim of his violence. She concluded that he had failed to show any lasting benefit from therapy and his behaviour was likely to destabilise the children’s home and security, which was provided by the mother. Continue reading →
The Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that “domestic violence” in section 177(1) of the Housing Act 1996 includes physical violence, threatening or intimidating behaviour and any other form of abuse which, directly or indirectly, may give rise to the risk of harm.
The effect of the decision is that anyone threatened with domestic violence, within the Supreme Court’s wider meaning, will not be expected to remain in local authority housing with their abuser. Although the judgement, given by Baroness Hale, did not mention human rights, it clearly impacts on article 8 rights to family life, and alongside the recent decision in Pinnock, could greatly increase the number of people to which local authorities are obliged to provide housing.
Joshua Rozenberg has written an article in today’s Guardian pointing out that, as of Monday, a major reform of the law of murder will take effect. The measures, which were introduced by the last Government, in effect replace the old partial defence to murder of provocation with a new partial defence of “loss of control”.
As Rozenberg points out, a partial defence reduces an offence from murder to manslaughter, which means that a judge will not have to impose a mandatory life sentence on conviction. The reforms to the law on provocation stem from long-standing criticism that the defence’s archaic origins in the common law have led to it being unduly lenient in instances of hot-headed violence (e.g. a husband killing his wife on discovery of infidelity), while providing insufficient protection for “slow burn” cases (and in particular those where victims of prolonged domestic violence finally kill the perpetrators). In recent years, attempts by the courts to extend the partial defence to “slow burn” cases have led to increasingly strained interpretations of the law in this area, which have furthered calls for reform.
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