For those of us who on those rare occasions have sounded off rather loudly, best keep away from England. This week England’s highest court held that raising your voice to your spouse qualifies as domestic violence.
This is truly a case of “words mean what I say they mean” and the “I” is Baroness Hale of Richmond, who was the first woman appointed to the House of Lords in 2004 and in 2009 took her place on England’s new Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. She is the most senior female judge in Britain.
The case involved 35 year-old Mirhet Yemshaw who lived in government subsidized housing with her husband and children. She brought an action against the housing authority for refusing to provide her with her own apartment after she left the home she shared with her husband because of domestic violence.
Ms. Yemshaw had not been threatened by her spouse, neither had she ever been physically assaulted; no pushing, shoving, or slapping. Nothing.
She said that her spouse had yelled at her in front of the children and did not provide her with a sufficient allowance to run the household. She also said that she was afraid she would lose custody of her children.
Rather than viewing this as a preemptive strike in an obvious matrimonial dispute, Lady Hale declared that the definition of domestic violence must change to include a range of abusive behaviors.
She said it was not up to the government or other officials to decide what constituted domestic violence, rather it was within the purview of the courts alone to determine changes in the meaning of Parliament’s words.
Lady Hale remarked that while the dictionary defined “violence” as a physical attack it could also include “extreme fervor, passion or fury.”
The ramifications of this ruling will be draconian in terms of the interpretation of a variety of criminal and family law statutes. I wonder if Lady Hale thought about that before she decided she knew better than everyone else.
Yemshaw’s husband says all of this started because his wife was unhappy.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang