Looking back on 2011
2011 started with an important case heard in the Supreme Court (Yemshaw v London Borough of Hounslow). The judgement was extraordinary but hardly surprising given that it was led by Lady Brenda Hale. Brenda Hale is a self avowed feminist who has always been more than happy to mix her feminist views with her job. As the first female appointed to be a Law Lord in 2003 the first thing she did was to hold a press conference and announce a number of areas of the law she would like to see changed – hardly the action of someone who is supposed to be impartial.
So it was not in the least surprising that the judgement led by Baroness Hale held that the meaning of the expression ‘domestic violence’ had changed since the passing of the Housing Act of 1996 and now means not just physical violence but any ‘form of abuse which, directly or indirectly, may give rise to the risk of harm’. We all know that the meaning of language can change over time but it seems a stretch of the imagination to suggest that it changes so quickly.
The judgement gave no guidance as to what the word ‘abuse’ means so we are left to imagine that it includes any action that the recipient can persuade the courts risked harming them physically or psychologically. From a fairly specific meaning for domestic violence the judges of the Supreme Court have been quite happy to make up the law themselves and move to a catch all interpretation. As pointed out in the press, the concern is that even raising your voice at your partner in the course of an argument could be held to be domestic abuse under this definition.
Towards the end of the year Lib-Dem ministers announced that they would be calling for a review of the definition of domestic violence so it would seem that government may be trying to play catch up.
In theory, none of this should worry men because although male perpetrators of DV are likely to inflict greater physical damage (as a generalisation), female perpetrators are very often in a position to inflict much greater emotional and financial damage on their partners, often aided and abetted by the Family Courts. Men should actually benefit from a widening of the definition but the problem is that they cannot rely on either the criminal courts or the family courts being gender neutral. In fact, quite the reverse – they can have an expectation that they will suffer gender discrimination in the legal system.
On the plus side, 2011 saw figures released showing the number of females convicted of DV had quadrupled in the last six years although they are still a tiny fraction of convictions of men. We can but hope that this trend continues and that as the courts become more used to convicting women of domestic violence they also become less biased.