Domestic abuse: your legal options


Boris Johnson has had an interesting ten days or so. What is said by those with apparent access to such insider intel to have started with a red wine stain on a much-loved white sofa has descended into a media circus that may yet threaten to derail his political ambition.

Tom Penn and Eve Leigh are not the first people to have overheard their neighbours’ unholy row on the other side of the wall, though they may have been the first to see the potential opportunities created by recording one.

The lovers’ tiff that has inconveniently taken the media’s attention away from what Boris Johnson may or may not want to do should he find himself relocating to an SW1A 2AA address has ultimately been deemed by the police to have been nothing more than that, despite the concerns of Mr Penn and Ms Leigh that it was on the verge of escalating into something more sinister.

And whilst the whole sorry episode has drawn unwelcome scrutiny to Boris Johnson’s personal life and made pariahs in some quarters of his neighbours, Winegate has also led to an unexpected positive in putting the issue of domestic abuse nearer to the top of the current affairs agenda.

Other than Mr Penn’s original claim that he recorded Mr Johnson’s fracas with Ms Symonds out of concern for his neighbours’ safety, there has been no suggestion that the spat was anything other than of the common-or-garden variety. But when we talk about domestic abuse there’s a tendency for people to immediately conjure images of violence in the home. In fact, domestic abuse comes in several shapes – all of them insidious.

Broadly, domestic abuse is considered to be one or more of the following:

  • Physical abuse: most obviously this relates to any form of non-consensual violence, but also includes the withholding of medical treatment or the enforced use of drugs or alcohol;
  • Sexual abuse: broadly, any form of non-consensual sexual activity;
  • Emotional abuse: any persistent non-physical treatment of a person that causes unreasonable emotional suffering over a prolonged period of time;
  • Economic abuse: denying access to funds or engaging in controlling behaviour that makes the victim entirely financially reliant on the abuser;
  • Psychological abuse: intimidation, threat of harm, isolation or ongoing enforced curfew
  • Stalking: spying, following, harassing, watching or unwanted visits to the home or place of work.

Although domestic abuse is taken very seriously by the authorities and the courts, it’s often difficult to prove criminality and many cases are either never prosecuted or fail to get to court because of difficulty obtaining the evidence required to secure a conviction.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible for people who believe they’re victims of emotional, economic or psychological abuse to get justice and bring an end to the problem. A civil case or, less commonly, a private prosecution, allows victims to use the legal system to get justice directly.

One of the biggest barriers to any abuse victim seeking legal advice is the fear of retribution from their abuser. However, this shouldn’t be a reason to avoid dealing with the problem at all.

We would always recommend people that people who are facing abuse of any kind speak to a family law solicitor to explore what options are available to them.

All conversations with a lawyer are privileged, meaning they are completely confidential, and no-one need ever know you’ve spoken to someone about your situation unless you decide to pursue your case against your abuser.

A family law specialist should also give you impartial advice that has your safety and well-being at its heart, so you’ll also have the confidence of knowing precisely what the advantages and potential disadvantages are of taking your case further.

Taking civil action against your abuser could mean successfully obtaining an injunction that ensures your abuser either stays away from you or stops their abusive behaviour (with the threat of further legal punishment if they don’t) or being awarded financial damages – or both.

Outside of the justice system, there are other ways for people to either get help or to safeguard themselves.

One option, if you’re facing abuse yourself or you’re worried that someone you know might be a victim, is to contact the National Domestic Abuse Helpline which will give you practical advice and support to help you decide how best to deal with the issue.

And for anyone who has entered into a relationship and wants reassurance regarding their partner, the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme – also known as Clare’s Law – was introduced in 2014 and allows police to disclose information about whether an individual has a history of domestic violence or attacks.

However you choose to deal with domestic violence in the short-term, it’s important that you confide in someone not only so you have confidential support you can draw on, but also to establish evidence of the problem should it ever be needed.

At Carlsons we are advocates of alternative dispute resolution and will always try to help you to resolve issues in a way that serves your best interests.

Dayana Nikolova