Mental abuse to count as domestic violence

 

In answer to a question from David Jockelson of Miles and Partners LLP at today’s Legal Aid Practitioner’s Group annual conference Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly confirmed that the MOJ intends to allow Judges discretion to count mental abuse as domestic violence.

At the conference, taking place in Birmingham today, Mr Jockelson posed the following question to the Minister – “Removal of children by another parent is as draconian and damaging to children as removal by public bodies so why, under the reforms, was Legal Aid not going to be available? And what about widening the definition of Domestic Violence….?” In answer to the question Mr Djanogly replied: “Thank you for the question. We are leaving definition of domestic violence to judges. We accept that mental violence is included.”

The Ministers statement that the MOJ is placing the discretion as to whether a party to family proceedings has suffered Domestic Violence under this definition in the hands of the Court marks a potentially significant shift in the MOJ’s position, which has previously been that victims of domestic violence must establish that an actual physical assault has occurred before they will be considered as meriting legal aid to get the help of the Court.

Those committed to continuing to represent victims of domestic violence with “private law” family issues,(i.e. private disputes between individuals that do not involve the state) who need the help of the courts will now be asking whether the minister’s statement now means that the emotional distress caused by parents refusing to return children at the end of a contact session (for instance) will be considered Domestic Violence within the terms of the new definition. And, if so, will this get them “over the threshold” with regard to obtaining legal aid to be represented in private law Children Act proceedings due to be removed from the Legal Aid scheme next year as part of the governments legal aid reforms.

The Minister’s statement is likely to give some hope to those campaigning for amendments to the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill currently making its way through Parliament.