Family law news: judicial training and jail for an abuser

After a busy week last week, the family law news this week has been rather thin. I did, however, come up with two stories:

Training for Judges

The judiciary has announced new training for judges, responding to concerns about the attitude of judges towards the issue of sexual consent. The concerns arose from a recent case in which His Honour Judge Tolson found that a father in a children case had not raped the mother, because her lack of physical resistance to the father indicated that she had consented. That decision, which was referred to in a recent speech by the former President of the Family Division Sir James Munby, was overturned on appeal by Ms Justice Russell.

A spokesman for the judiciary said:

“The Lord Chief Justice and President of the Family Division have noted the content of the judgment on appeal given by Ms Justice Russell … Ms Justice Russell … raised the issue of training in her judgment on the appeal.

All judges on appointment to the family courts are given intensive training for cases involving domestic abuse … Training is refreshed at continuation courses … A panel of experts, which includes two serving judges, was established by the Ministry of Justice in 2019 to review how the family courts deal with domestic abuse and other serious offences. The panel is expected to report shortly. It is likely to look at the role of all professionals engaged in domestic abuse cases. Its recommendations, including any relating to training, will be of importance.

The Lord Chief Justice and President of the Family Division have asked Lady Justice Rafferty, Chairman of the Judicial College, to oversee the preparation of an online resource for the use of family judges dealing, in particular, with issues of consent and stereotypes in sexual cases. The induction and refresher course will be adjusted to ensure these topics are fully covered.”

Hopefully, this announcement will go some way towards assuaging the concerns, and ensuring that judges adopt the correct approach in these cases.

Domestic abuser jailed

And finally, a story that is strictly criminal, rather than family, law.

It is, however, directly relevant to family law, and will hopefully act as a deterrent to domestic abusers. In the first case of its kind, the Solicitor General has succeeded in an appeal against a lenient sentence given to a man convicted of (amongst other things) controlling and coercive behaviour towards his former partner.

Joshua Dalgarno was sentenced to a 24-month community order at Taunton Crown Court last December, after it had been found that between July and September 2019 he was regularly violent towards his former partner, stabbing her in the leg with a penknife on one occasion and smashing her head against a windscreen on another.

However, the Solicitor General Michael Ellis QC argued before the Court of Appeal that that sentence was too lenient, taking advantage of the expanded unduly lenient sentence scheme, which allows victims or members of the public to ask the Attorney General to consider referring a sentence to the Court of Appeal for reconsideration if they believe it is too lenient. The Court of Appeal agreed and replaced the sentence with a three-year term of imprisonment.

Mr Ellis commented:

“This is the first [case] of its type and it’s particularly important to send a message that this type [of] behaviour, which was graphic, which was prolonged, which was pernicious, must be met with appropriate criminal sanction. It’s a matter of public policy that this type of appalling domestic abuse, including violence, should be met with a sentence that the general public would expect, namely one of imprisonment, and I’m pleased the Court of Appeal has increased the sentence accordingly.”

Have a good weekend.

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