Significant concerns have been raised regarding how domestic violence victims are supported and protected by Essex Police following the murders of three women at the hands of their ex-partners. The Independent Police Complaints Commission found failings in all three murder cases, which prompted a report by HM Inspector of Constabulary (HMIC).
The HMIC report expressed concern about the way officers dealt with domestic violence victims Maria Stubbings, Jeanette Goodwin, and Christine Chambers and her two-year-old daughter Shania, who were all killed at the hands of their partners. The report labelled the handling of the cases as “fragmented’ and of “significant concern’; further highlighting the issue of poor communication, both between officers and with outside agencies involved in investigating domestic violence cases.
Other recommendations from the report are a need for the way incidents are assessed to be reviewed in order that that the most urgent cases can be prioritised, the implementation of immediate steps to monitor cases where perpetrators are taken directly from police custody to court, and the need for a more co-ordinated approach between Essex Police and other agencies involved in supporting domestic violence victims.
John Hayward-Cripps, of domestic abuse charity Victim Support, concurred with the HMIC report that identifying those at risk of harm is critical to protecting victims, as is early identification to prevent the abuse escalating.
One would hope that the recommendations of the HMIC report are adopted throughout the UK to protect those suffering domestic abuse. However, in the experience of our family law team, the reaction of the local police can vary from incident to incident. All too often the victim is advised by a Police Officer to simply “see a solicitor and get an injunction.’ Certainly the assistance given to victims by the Police is inconsistent. More often than not they fail to offer adequate protection and the victim is left isolated and powerless to prevent further abuse.
Our specialist family law solicitors have links to local Women’s Centres, Citizens Advise Bureaus and Women’s Refuges. Many of our relationships with these organisations have been in place for many years and in some cases, including the Rossendale Domestic Violence Forum and the Women’s Refuge in Burnley, our lawyers were even involved in their formation. In short, our team has a wide knowledge of our local areas and how to access practical assistance from local providers.
We have found that many victims of abuse are unaware of the support that they can get in their local area. Often because the Police take little or no action, the victim remains in the abusive relationship, unable to find a safe way out. Although we have come a long way since the Family Law Act was made, domestic violence is still allowed to continue, with the perpetrators often going unpunished.
Victims of domestic violence are still able to seek Legal Aid – subject to certain criteria -to obtain a non-molestation order to protect them (and any children if appropriate) from further abuse. Such proceedings can also determine who should remain in the house, whether short or long term. Should you need legal advice about domestic violence, do not hesitate to contact our team of family law solicitors who are experts in the field.
By Nicola Rushton, Family Lawyer in Burnley