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27 JUL 2011

Young Lawyers - Kate Gomery: Don't Fight Fire with Fire

Kate GomeryDomestic violence within family proceedings is an emotive and usually polarising issue,  but precisely because of that it is crucial for the lawyers who conduct the cases to keep a calm and objective head. Recently, I was up against counsel in a return date for a non-molestation order (I was for the applicant). My opponent's approach  in court was to attack my client's credibility in an aggressive manner whilst her client was sat next to her hissing disgusting things about my client just out of earshot of the judge. The judge was very critical of my opponent's confrontational approach, and unsurprisingly  it only resulted in the tension between the parties worsening. My client was verbally abused by the respondent on the way of out court and, within minutes of them leaving the court building, the terms of the order had been breached again and the police were called. Lesson learnt is that as a legal representative it is important to lead by example. I'm not saying that respondent would definitely not have behaved that way if their lawyer had taken a less hostile approach, but if you see your lawyer behaving aggressively on your behalf in court  it is almost inevitable that the result will be to inflame an already volatile  situation.

Where there are children in the family who may be exposed to domestic violence, the courts take a hard line approach and such children may only have restricted contact with the violent parent or, in more serious cases will be heavily supervised or removed if there welfare is at risk by violence between adults in their home.

However,  in divorce cases where there are no children and where the aim is to effect an absolute legal and physical break in an exclusively adult relationship, it has always struck me as slightly incongruous where, particularly on unreasonable behaviour petitions citing violence, there is no power available to the Courts to direct either party to address any violent behaviour. Just because there are no children of the family, should it mean that there is no obligation to  any future partner or children, or to society generally, to direct or at least strongly recommend attendance on a perpetrator or victims course?  Can it be said that encouraging physical and mental well-being  upon legal separation is equally, if not more, important than sorting financial arrangements?  I believe it could be argued that, where it applied, such a power would be more effective than "Clare's Law" currently being proposed, by which the police would have the power to disclose past convictions for abuse to a new partner. The current proposals, in my view, simply place  an ineffective bandage on an existing wound  and  do not pro-actively address the issues which may help to stop the cycle of abuse.

Sadly, organisations which provide support for victims and programs for perpetrators of domestic violence are the very type of groups that are being hit hardest by current funding cuts. In Liverpool I know that we struggle to find programs for clients at the moment, and even those that are available are under-resourced and over-subscribed.

Kate Gomery has recently qualified as a family law solicitor. She works at Heaney Watson in Liverpool where she is exposed to all types of family law work but particularly publicly funded family law cases. Prior to qualification Kate spent several years doing general crime and then serious fraud work.  She trained at Pannone in Manchester.

The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.

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