Have you ever yelled at your spouse, perhaps out of frustration or even anger? If you say “no”, I don’t believe you.
For those of us who on those rare, embarrassing occasions have sounded off rather loudly, best keep away from England, since Britain’s highest court has found 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 prestigious 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 alleged 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 and disastrous 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.
However, she was not alone. Four male Law Lords agreed with her decision, albeit Lord Brown expressed what he called “real doubt” about the correctness of the decision, noting that the ruling overturned two precedent cases decided by six Justices of the Court of Appeal. Nonetheless, he was content to let the majority stand.
But England is not alone in their expanded definition of domestic violence. A British Columbia Provincial Court judge recently held that non-payment of child support was also a form of violence. Lawyer John-Paul Boyd writes on his blog
“In J.C.P. v J.B. the Provincial Court has characterized a person’s failure to “pay child support on time and in the full amount” as “family violence” within the meaning of s. 1 of the Family Law Act, and then applied this finding to determine the appropriate arrangements for the care of the parties’ child. This decision continues a trend toward the broad interpretation of “family violence”…
While both yelling and non-payment of child support are actions to be avoided, neither in my view falls under “family violence”. In fact, for those women and men who have been subject to real domestic violence, it is scurrilous to suggest that a raised voice or a missed child support payment is the equivalent of a physical or mental assault.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang