The publication of the Domestic Violence Bill represents a historic opportunity to challenge the many glaring injustices that still exist in this country’s treatment of survivors of domestic abuse.
But I want to draw attention to one element of the law that is often overlooked, which should absolutely be addressed in this legislation: the automatic entitlement of joint assets for those who have attempted to murder their partner.
A few months ago, I had a harrowing conversation with a Nottinghamshire woman who contacted me after watching a speech I had made about how the criminal justice system retraumatises victims of domestic violence.
She told me her husband had recently been convicted of her attempted murder in a brutal knife attack. A survivor of the worst domestic violence imaginable, she was left minutes from death, saved only by her son and neighbours who valiantly tried to stop her husband’s vicious rage.
She is now trying to rebuild her life after inconceivable physical trauma – though perhaps worse is the mental trauma, both for her and her son. I cannot even begin to understand how you get over something like this, but I do know one thing – this survivor has come out fighting.
Unsurprisingly she wants nothing more to do with the monstrous man who inflicted such dreadful harm on her, and is currently going through the gruelling and expensive process of divorcing him.
But, incredibly, it seems that her partner is entitled to some of her assets – including her pension and her home. I had wrongly assumed that anyone serving time for attempting to murder their partner would automatically forfeit all such rights. In 2018, in a country where two women a week are murdered by a current or former partner, this beggars belief.
I had wrongly assumed that anyone serving time for attempting to murder their partner would automatically forfeit all such rights. In 2018, in a country where two women a week are murdered by a current or former partner, this beggars belief.
This woman is now left in a state of financial panic, trying to provide for her family as a single parent, whilst also having to pay enormous legal fees to divorce him. If anything this woman deserves a compensation payout from her violent husband - not that any amount could possibly repair the damage done. Yet, it seems she is left footing all the bills, while he will walk away in a few years’ time with up to £100,000, just for having been married to someone he mistreated so heinously.
I promised this brave woman that I would fight for change. For me, it’s a no brainer that we change the law from presumed financial entitlement to presumed loss of entitlement in cases like this.
However, after writing to the Ministry of Justice and raising this in Parliament on numerous occasions, I have been astonished to find that this is apparently not an issue of cross-party consensus.
Responding to my letter requesting the removal of entitlement to joint assets for offenders guilty of attempting to murder their spouse, Justice Minister Paul Maynard outlined his concern that the perpetrator may be “punished twice” for his actions. Ensuring that convicted domestic abusers are not treated too harshly may be the Government’s priority, but I am sure that anyone with a shred of humanity will understand that it is this poor mother and her son who are being punished all over again by this nonsensical legal loophole.
We are just days away from having a new prime minister. For the sake of the families who have already suffered enough from the worst kind of domestic violence, I urge him to change this ludicrous situation, and remove the entitlement to joint assets for perpetrators of attempted spousal murder.
Welcome to HuffPost Opinion, a new dedicated space for reliable, expert commentary and analysis on the day’s biggest talking points. Got a unique angle or viewpoint on a news story that will help cut through the noise? We want to hear from you. Read more here.