Recently there has been a cry out from victim support groups that women should have the right to know whether their new partner has an abusive or violent past. They are urging for the Law to change so that the police are granted powers to be able to disclose to potential victims of for example abuse, violence and murder that their new partner has previous convictions for such serious offences. You can read the Guardian article here.
MP’s are now seeking a change to the current domestic violence bill so that police have to create a database which contains convictions and cautions for anyone who is found guilty of manslaughter, murder, rape or repeated instances of domestic violence or coercive control. If offenders do not disclose to the police that they are in a new relationship then the police would have the right to make unannounced visits to the offenders who could then face prison if they are found to be in a relationship. They would also have the right to tell the new partner of their new partner’s previous convictions.
The problem here though is the police already are stretched in resources and man power. Will they honestly have the time to keep a track on previous offenders and their relationships and surely it would be easy enough to hide a relationship unless they were under 24 hour surveillance. Whilst this does seem like a solution to potential future problems, realistically can it work?
This idea stems from the recently reported case of serial killer Theodore Johnson who has been sentenced to life imprisonment for strangling and battering his ex-girlfriend, Angela Best. Mr Johnson has a significant history of violence against women, starting in 1981 when he killed his wife by throwing her off a building and in 1992 he strangled his second partner.
Currently under “Clare’s Law”, any woman can approach the police and make an enquiry as to whether their new partner has a violent past but the issue here is that it relies on the woman to instigate this. Many women may not even know this scheme exists as it only came in to practice in 2014 after a 36 year old woman, Clare Wood, was strangled by her partner, George Appleton who had a record of violence against women. It could also be the case that women are too afraid of approaching the police in case their new partner found out or they may even be blissfully unaware of the signs of potential domestic violence or abuse, especially if the signs of coercion and control are subtle to begin with.
The Family Courts are also becoming more and more aware and are having to deal with cases where relationships break down and allegations of domestic violence and abuse are being made. This is particularly relevant where there are children involved and the child care arrangements including who the child should live with and how much time they should spend with the other parent are not agreed and the court’s intervention is needed.
The law has now accepted that domestic abuse, which includes “any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse” can be just as severe as physical abuse/violence.
If a child witnesses domestic abuse/violence, gets caught in the cross-fire or is brought up by a parent that teaches the child that being violent, abusive, controlling or coercive is acceptable, then this will have extremely serious repercussions later in life when the child forms their own relationships. This is why the Court will say these types of relationships and behaviour puts the child at a serious risk of harm and is relevant when deciding on the overall child care arrangements.
If domestic abuse/violence is a relevant factor in proceedings, then the Court is likely to order a “mini trial” so that all the allegations can be dealt with and evidence has to be given so the Judge can decided whether an incident did happen or not and which parent’s version of events they choose to believe. This has to happen before then deciding about the issues of where the child should live and how much contact they should have with the other parent. The Court’s main priority is to do whatever is in the best interests of the child.
It is important for any parent who finds themselves in such a relationship with children involved that they gather as much evidence as possible because it could help them later down the line if Court proceedings are issued to deal with the child care arrangements if they cannot be agreed. For example, we often advise clients to keep a diary and save any emails or text messages that could prove the other person’s abusive or controlling behaviour. Reporting any incident of domestic abuse or violence to the police also ensures that a record is kept which can be produced at Court. Also making any disclosure to a professional such as your GP, Health Visitor or Social Services can also be produced at Court as evidence.
We urge anyone who finds themselves in a potentially harmful relationship to seek advice from one of our Family Solicitors or if they cannot agree the child care arrangements after a separation. For advice and assistance please feel free to contact Kirsten Tomlinson, an Associate Solicitor with over 10 years’ experience dealing with relationship breakdowns email Kirsten.Tomlinson@family-law.co.uk or telephone:
Wilmslow 01625 544650
Knutsford 01565 648228
London 0207 9474219
Manchester 0161 8048441