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
    suicide.

    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.

    More from Community Care

    Comments are closed.