A Thanet mother who was one of four at the centre of a landmark hearing concerning domestic abuse cases in the family courts has had a new judgment issued – with findings including forced sexual intercourse and recognition of the ‘gaslighting’ which forced her to question her sanity.
The mother, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, won her appeal after the presiding judge at her original case, HHJ Richard Scarratt, was heavily criticised for his ” wholly inappropriate comments” and attitude.
The young mum’s case centred around her child and a contact agreement with the father which the Royal Court of Appeal accepts she did not make freely. Her appeal to the Royal Court was against the ruling made by HHJ Richard Scarratt in 2019 which resulted in a consent order setting out time to be spent between the father and the child.
The mother’s representation said the judge was wrong to make an order by consent when there were unresolved allegations of serious domestic abuse, including rape. The appeal highlighted ‘wholly inappropriate comments’ made by HHJ Scarratt during an earlier hearing in March 2019 where the mother was threatened that: “if this goes on the child will be taken into care and adopted’.
During the appeal court hearing a tape of proceedings was played to judges, President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane, Lady Justice Eleanor King and Lord Justice Tim Holroyde, where the mum could be heard sobbing following the judge’s comments.
In a Judgement issued by the Royal Court of Appeal last year it said: “The judge’s unguarded comments, made to the mother, not only to have her child taken from her but to have her adopted and, on two further occasions, to refer the case to social services, have to be regarded as having had long lasting repercussions for her.
“There was however no justification for the judge to say that ‘if this goes on the child will be taken into care and adopted’. Nor was there any justification for the judge twice referring to the possibility of reporting the case to social services.”
HHJ Scarratt had also said if agreement were not made he would not hear any evidence on allegations of coercive and controlling behaviour.
Following the landmark Royal Court appeal the case was sent to the High Court Of Justice Family Division to be heard before The Honourable Mr Justice Cobb who issued his judgement towards the end of last month.
The Honourable Justice Cobb found there had been emotional control/coercion of the mother and that the father had forced himself on the mother for sexual intercourse,” uncaring whether she was consenting or not.”
The judgement says: “The mother was a vulnerable and naïve woman who was inexperienced in relationships and inexperienced sexually. Both parties told me (and I accept) that the mother was self-conscious about her body. All these factors lead to me to the conclusion that sexual intimacy which involved physical abuse of the mother (‘rough sex’) was initiated by the father and was probably not consensual.”
The judgement also found that the mother was ‘expected’ to perform oral sex.
The Honourable Mr Justice Cobb found there was a ‘power imbalance’ in the relationship and the mother was “caused to live at times in a state of worry and anxiety, and (in her own words) was “… often terrified and deeply confused by constant contradictions, not able to speak my mind or think clearly. I was controlled through fear, intimidation and bullying.”
The judgement also found “the father did repeatedly allege that the mother suffered from bipolar disorder; I further and significantly find that there was no clear medical evidence that she did suffer such a condition.”
He agreed with the term of ‘gaslighting’ put forward by the mother’s representation at the Appeal Court, saying in the judgement: “Dr Proudman’s use of the term ‘gaslighting’ in the hearing to describe this conduct was in my judgment apposite; the father’s conduct represented a form of insidious abuse designed to cause the mother to question her own mental well-being, indeed her sanity.
“The assertion to the mother and others were ostensibly given greater credibility by the fact that at the time the father was a mental health nurse; he may be thought (and doubtless wanted to be thought) to have drawn on specialist expertise or experience to make his diagnosis/assertion.”
The Honourable Mr Justice Cobb said he also found that three allegations of sexually inappropriate behaviour at the man’s mental health workplace with vulnerable people – including to a 16 year old – showed: “the father is a man who has a history of inappropriate attitudes towards vulnerable females, and of crossing personal boundaries with such vulnerable people.”
The Honourable Mr Justice Cobb concluded: “Given my findings of domestic abuse, it will be necessary for me to consider the impact which that abuse has had on the mother and (child).
“To some extent I have been able to see the effect on the mother already given her obvious and extreme distress in court. In light of that evaluation, it will be necessary for me to determine what orders are to be made for the future protection and welfare of the mother and (child).”
Further evidence and submissions will be needed in regards to contact arrangements.
The Royal Court of Appeal – the second highest court in operation –held the review in January 2021 to consider how the four family court cases, where rape, domestic abuse and/or coercive control allegations were involved, were dealt with.
Family courts are bound to consider under Practice Direction 12J whether a child is at risk due to abuse in a relationship and to apply this knowledge when making orders for child access.
The appeal was instrumental in changes to family court training and amendments to Domestic Abuse legislation. It also won Family Law Case of the Year at The Family Law Awards 2021.
Domestic Abuse Bill
In April last year the Domestic Abuse Bill passed both Houses of Parliament and was signed into law.
The Domestic Abuse Act provides further protections to the millions of people who experience domestic abuse and strengthen measures to tackle perpetrators.
For the first time in history there is a wide-ranging legal definition of domestic abuse which incorporates a range of abuses beyond physical violence, including emotional, coercive or controlling behaviour, and economic abuse.
The measures include important new protections and support for victims ensuring that abusers will no longer be allowed to directly cross-examine their victims in the family and civil courts and give victims better access to special measures in the courtroom to help prevent intimidation – such as protective screens and giving evidence via video link.
Under the act police are also given new powers including Domestic Abuse Protection Notices providing victims with immediate protection from abusers, while courts are given power to hand out new Domestic Abuse Protection Orders to help prevent offending by forcing perpetrators to take steps to change their behaviour, including seeking mental health support or drug and alcohol rehabilitation.
A new offence of non-fatal strangulation has been added, extending an offence to cover the threat to disclose intimate images, and clarifying the law to further clamp down on claims of “rough sex gone wrong” in cases involving death or serious injury.
Other measures included in the act include:
- extending the controlling or coercive behaviour offence to cover post-separation abuse
- explicitly recognise children as victims if they see, hear or experience the effects of abuse
- establish in law the office of Domestic Abuse Commissioner and set out the Commissioner’s functions and powers
- placing a duty on local authorities in England to provide support to victims of domestic abuse and their children in refuges and other safe accommodation
- provide that all eligible homeless victims of domestic abuse automatically have ‘priority need’ for homelessness assistance
- place the guidance supporting the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (“Clare’s law”) on a statutory footing