Western Mail, 13th September 2007
Domestic abuse will affect one in four women during their lifetime. Kate Edwards, an expert solicitor with Cardiff-based Wendy Hopkins Family Law Practice and a Trustee of Pontypridd Women’s Aid, will address this escalating social problem at the annual Welsh Women’s Aid conference being held in Wrexham tomorrow.

Domestic abuse will affect one in four Welsh women in their lifetimes and one in six men.

Two women die each week and thirty men each year as a result of domestic abuse in the UK.

By any stretch of the imagination, these are staggering statistics.

And domestic abuse is no respecter of race or age, social standing or sex, neither are there signs of the problem reducing.

Indeed with more and more families struggling with financial pressures, there is every indication that domestic abuse incidents are increasing year-on-year.

The fact that there are a growing number of domestic abuse units and women’s safety units is evidence of the depth of the problem.

These units provide a valuable service together with the work of Women’s Aid and various refuges.

Solicitors can play a valuable role in completing the circle to combat domestic violence; a message I and my colleague Nia Roberts from Wendy Hopkins Family Law Practice will be addressing at this weekend’s conference

I first began working with women who were experiencing domestic abuse and Women’s Aid groups while training to be a solicitor.

It made me realise that the problem was more widespread than I had ever previously thought and, as I have stated, that it affected all types of women.

As I became more aware of the problem the many forms of domestic abuse also became more obvious – it doesn’t just include the physical violence but also mental, emotional and financial.

After a relationship has ended the perpetrator may try to continue to exhort his influence by using the children of the relationship.

During my work as a solicitor, I often visit victims who are unable or unwilling to visit a solicitor’s office because of the repercussions if they are seen.

This is a major issue and one that the profession needs to address urgently, while lawyers I believe also have a duty to educate the public about this unseen problem.

The laws in this country are changing as awareness grows. The Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 reflects this and important changes have been made- but whether these changes go far enough remains to be seen

One of the most important is The Family Law Act 1996, which is an all-embracing act allowing a person to apply for a Non molestation Order and/or Occupation Order.

A non-molestation order can be made to prevent a person from using or threatening to use physical violence or to prevent a person from harassing, pestering or intimidating someone.

There must be evidence of molestation, the applicant (or child) must need protection; and the Judge must be satisfied that judicial intervention is required to control the abusive behaviour.

An Occupation Order is used where the future occupation of a property is in issue. One person could effectively be required to leave the home because of his/her violent behaviour towards the other or the effect that his/her presence is having on the children.

Occupation orders are quite onerous and usually only requested in conjunction with a Non-molestation Order and when there is no other option. An Occupation Order effectively ousts the violent partner from the family home and orders them not to return.

Another part of the law that needs to be understood is the Children Act 1989, which places the welfare of the child first. This puts the child’s best interests above the needs of the abused parent as it is the accepted view that it is in the child’s best interests to have a relationship with both parents.

If a child’s mother has been a victim of domestic abuse which has resulted in the end of the relationship with the child’s father, contact between the child and their father can be managed so that the parents do not meet. Contact can be facilitated by a mutual third party, or in some cases contact can take place at a contact centre.

If the parent with whom the child lives believes that it is not in the child’s best interests to see their other parent, they are entitled to stop contact.

The non-resident parent then must make an application to the Court where the matter will be investigated fully.

Clearly, this is only a brief summary of the law as it relates to domestic abuse.

My opinion is that the legal profession has a duty to utilise as much of its considerable expertise as possible to help reduce the problem of domestic violence in the UK.

After all, we have the qualifications to advise staff, volunteers and trustees about the civil remedies available to them and their children to help them break the cycle of violence and protect them in the future.

Finally, I will also speak at a ladies networking event organised by Anna Maria Sakellariou of the Senior Women and Networking (SWAN) Group. Representatives of Cardiff Women’s Aid, BAWSU (Black and African Women Stepping Out) and Cardiff Women’s Safety Unit will also be speaking at the event at The Copthorne Hotel, Cardiff, on September 20.