The law and our private lives: an abusive relationship?

Private or public morality
Barbican Centre, Frobisher Auditorium 2,
Battle of Ideas 2013
Saturday 19 October 2013
The very public incident involving Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi earlier this year made domestic violence a major talking point, but the issue already had a high profile. Last year, home secretary Theresa May said tackling domestic violence was one of the government’s most important tasks. The government has accordingly enacted a series of changes designed to make it easier for the authorities to intervene to prevent violence in the home.
Last year, a new definition of ‘domestic violence’ was adopted into policy, which included psychological, emotional and financial abuse. The 2010 Crime and Security Act introduced ‘domestic violence protection orders’, which allowed for those accused of violence against their partners to be forced to leave their homes without any criminal trial. At the end of last year, a number of police forces up and down the country piloted ‘Clare’s law’, whereby those who suspected a partner of having a violent past could apply to the police for details of any convictions for violent offences.

Many have seen these changes as vital in combating a particularly difficult area of criminal law. Some have also pointed out that police failures with regards to these cases have often had tragic consequences, citing the fact that two women every week are murdered by their partners. But others have argued the changes unnecessarily infringe our civil liberties, and foster an dangerous climate of suspicion. Others have cited concerns about treating one particular area of offending more seriously than others, arguing that this undermines the rule of law.

Of course, vulnerable people in turbulent relationships may need the protection of the police. But has the state’s attempts to curb and prevent domestic violence gone too far? Is police involvement in these cases, which are by their nature deeply complex, always a good thing? Should ending domestic violence be seen by the government as one of its ‘most important tasks’ or has the law in this area given the state too much power to intervene?

Aneurin Brewer
barrister working in criminal law; regularly instructed for both the prosecution and defence in Magistrates and Crown Courts
Kate Brown
lecturer in social policy, University of York
Barbara Hewson
Helen Reece
reader in law, LSE; present research project Violence to Feminism
Dr Jacki Tapley
principal lecturer and associate head (academic), Institute of Criminal Justice Studies, University of Portsmouth
Luke Gittos
solicitor, Hughmans Solicitors; legal editor, spiked; convenor, London Legal Salon
Luke Gittos solicitor, Hughmans Solicitors; legal editor, spiked; convenor, London Legal Salon
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Although it is generally agreed that we need laws to protect us. When it comes to domestic violence (DV) the evidence on arrest and prosecution safeguarding women is inconclusive. To add to this, if women who have experienced DV do not comply with the role of the “vulnerable” victim, there can be sanctions.

State intervention has always been available, but men and their needs monopolised that law. The law allowed men to behave inappropriately towards women. It was only as recently as the 90’s that the law was changed to recognise rape within marriage.

The question was asked “How can a Social Worker or judge analyse what is truly going on between a couple? It does seem quite complex to ascertain what is expected of the law or other statutory services under these circumstances. However the amended definition for what constitutes DV does seem to give more scope for intervention.

So how much intervention and by whom? Well the latter brings us back to the argument that the law is there to protect us and as the law, it sets a standard of what it deems to be appropriate behaviour which should then be adhered to.  DV is a public issue and some would argue that as such, we should not wade in and make decisions on behalf of the victim. Yet if the statistics for the rates of DV incidents in lesbian and gay couples are to be believed (i.e. 90%), then more needs to be done to prevent escalating abuse in relationships.

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