Judges can’t grasp domestic violence

An expert on heart disease, in a drunken rage, slaps his fianc’e
and smashes the arm of a hotel manager who tries to intervene.

Professor James Scott, 57, could have been sent to prison. Instead,
Judge Philip Wassall acknowledged his “record of achievement” and,
deciding he was “too good to jail”, imposed a probation order. When
the judiciary refuses to give unambiguous messages about the
seriousness of all violence, including domestic violence, they
should be in the dock with the perpetrators.

The newspapers are full of the bruising saga of actress Lesley Ash
and former footballer, Lee Chapman. Whether or not he has
systematically beaten and belittled her, the key question for
commentators has been why does she stay?

For many women who do encounter violence, the answer is: because
it’s safer. According to New Zealand research, a woman is at the
highest risk for 18 months after separation. A large proportion of
the women killed by their partners in the UK have died when they
have left for good.

This terrible vulnerability is because of the uneven response of
the courts and the police that even the new Domestic Violence Crime
and Victims Bill will not adequately address.

Human rights charity Amnesty International, in the current issue of
its magazine, describes the New Zealand case of Alan Bristol who,
in 1994, killed his three daughters before committing

Incredibly, although a wife beater, the courts had decided Bristol
was a good father and awarded him custody. Police subsequently said
the murders were “not foreseeable and not preventable”.

Campaigners rightly argued that, on the contrary, the signs were
obvious, but only to those who pay more than lip-service to the
belief that domestic violence is a profound abuse of power and
inhibits the capacity to parent properly.

Now, New Zealand police are obliged to conduct “lethality risk
assessments” and arrest if the score is high. Domestic violence is
defined as including harassment, damage to property and threats of
abuse. In addition, if a child has witnessed a beating – and in
Britain, 90 per cent of attacks occur when children are present or
in the next room – that is classed as violence against the child,
affecting contact with the father.

Change is happening here – but too slowly. We need to adopt the New
Zealand system and monitor the courts and the police.

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