As Dave has explained, the Supreme Court decision in Yemshaw v LB Hounslow brought the definition of violence in Housing Act 1996 into line with other statute and Government guidance, in particular with the accepted family law definition of ‘domestic violence’.
But not for the Daily Mail. For the Mail, the real issue was set out in their headline “Shout at your spouse and risk losing your home: It’s just the same as domestic violence, warns woman judge“. It was a five judge Supreme Court, so that should be “warn 4 men and 1 woman judges”, but it is of course the woman judge that is undermining the very fabric of decent society, so we’ll let that small error pass.
Here are the Mail’s opening salvos:
Men and women who shout at their partners risk being thrown out of their homes under a sweeping ruling by judges yesterday.
Raising your voice at a husband or wife, or a boyfriend or girlfriend, now counts as domestic violence under the landmark Supreme Court judgment.
The decision also means that denying money to a partner or criticising them can count as violence and bring down draconian domestic violence penalties from the courts.
These three sentences, in which the sole accurate bit is that this was a Supreme Court judgment, demonstrate why the Mail is not a paper of record for case reports. One might, perhaps, be tempted put it down to sheer incompetence on the part of the unnamed reporter, but given the general thrust of the article, mere incompetence rather pales into insignificance. The Mail appears to consider that a definition of violence that doesn’t require physical assault means a falling away from the standards of the good old days. Britain is going down the drain. It is politicial correctness gone mad. Etc. etc..
I am tempted to believe that the presence of ‘a woman judge’, ‘a homeless woman’ and ‘a council house’ caused the Mail’s automatic story generator to overload and it mixed the case report up with the ritual ‘A levels aren’t what they used to be and people now go to Oxbridge without being able to spell their name’ story. Hence a story along the lines of ‘standards of domestic abuse used to be so much higher – in the old days I wouldn’t have left my husband unless he gave me a broken cheek bone and a damaged liver’. Either that or the Daily Mail has proudly started the Campaign for Real Domestic Violence -and asks its readers to stand up for being knocked down (or intends to reassure them that they are not committing domestic violence if they merely engage in psychological, sexual, financial or emotional abuse).
Despite all of this, you may be surprised to learn that it is not the Mail on the naughty step (or perhaps the Mail should be considered to always have been on the step). The Mail is of course a cynical, amoral panderer to a certain petit bourgeois weltanshauung, but it is frankly a bit gauche to be surprised by the depths to which Paul Dacre’s organ will stoop.
No, for the person to be put on the step, we must look to the surprising fact that in its article on Yemshaw the Mail managed to find a supportive quote from a ‘Family Law Expert’, who said:
The judiciary are taking the Humpty Dumpty view, and it risks undermining confidence in the legal system
The Mail, ever solicitious of its readers, helpfully explained this meant a “comparison between the ruling and the Humpty Dumpty character in Lewis Carroll’s Through The Looking-Glass, who said words meant whatever he wanted them to mean.”
I suspect that you are wondering what ‘family law expert’ could actually say such a thing, given the functioning definition of domestic violence in family law, via the President of the Family Division’s Practice Direction (Residence and Contact Orders: Domestic Violence) (No 2)  1 WLR 251, para 2 and not forgetting the definitions in:
[The] Association of Chief Police Officers: Guidance on Investigating Domestic Abuse (2008); the Crown Prosecution Service Policy for Prosecuting Cases of Domestic Violence (2010); the Ministry of Justice, in Domestic Violence: A Guide to Civil Remedies and Criminal Sanctions (February 2003, updated March 2007); and the UK Border Agency, in Victims of Domestic Violence: Requirements for Settlement Applications
Oh and Hounslow’s own leaflet, Domestic Violence: What it is and how you can get help from 2009.
Who, you will be asking yourselves, whilst being someone who holds themselves out as a family law expert, would offer up such a quote? It is almost as if they hadn’t actually read the judgment, but had just been called up by the Mail before the first coffee of the day and given a quote based on nothing but their own prejudices.
The Daily Mail says the quote is by a ‘Jill Kirby’. After some intensive searching for any ‘Jill Kirby’ connected with family law, I am reasonably confident that it is this Jill Kirby, (just former)Director of the Centre for Policy Studies (a Tory think tank). I can’t find any other ‘Jill Kirby’ who has anything to do with pronouncements on family law, let alone one with this Jill Kirby’s record on giving voice to her passing thoughts through the newspapers (Telegraph, Sunday Times, Express and so on). If I am wrong, then my profound apologies to this Jill Kirby and will the real ‘Jill Kirby, Family Law Expert’ please step forward…
Jill Kirby, (just former) director of the Centre for Policy Studies, is, or was, a lawyer.
she qualified as a solicitor in 1981 and practised in a leading City law firm as a specialist in commercial litigation and employment law. [source]
So not actually a family lawyer, then. I don’t think either employment or commercial law practice equips one to comment on family law, let alone housing law (as it doesn’t appear to have registered with Ms Kirby that this was a housing law case). If any commercial lawyers beg to differ, then it is statute at 20 paces at dawn.
Does Jill Kirby have any academic qualifications or particular research expertise in family law?
Jill Kirby chairs the Family Policy Group at the Centre for Policy Studies where she writes on family and welfare issues. Her most recent CPS report, The Nationalisation of Childhood, argues that the Government’s agenda for children is creating a direct relationship between children and the state, undermining the responsibility of families.
Jill’s other CPS publications include Broken Hearts – Family decline and the consequences for society (2002), Choosing to be Different (2003) and The Price of Parenthood (2005). [source]
That would appear to be a ‘no’. As far as I can gather, this means that she writes about her opinions on the family and the state for a tory think tank. No discernable ‘family law’ expertise at all, unless there is some kind of qualification that has been omitted from the public CVs, as one does.
There is a reliable general rule that anyone quoted in the Daily Mail may be intelligent, honourable or espouse family values, but at the best only two of the three at any given time. However, the nature and billing of this particular comment has already ruled out two of the three options.
While the comment may have been sincerely meant, it would then have to be profoundly uninformed – from a ‘family law expert’. If it is not sincerely meant, then it is mere wind-baggery, such as would make most ‘experts’ blush with shame. If you are reading this, Ms Kirby, do let us know which was the case.
In the meantime, good luck with your new career. Unless that is, your new career consists of continuing to offer rubbish quotes to the Daily Mail as an ‘expert’. You are on the naughty step for adding a veneer of respectability to the Mail’s bile without respect for anyone who may read it or indeed for yourself. Think of this as an an intervention. I want you to be able to be proud of yourself. I want you to be able to say ‘I think X’ and actually mean it - both that this is the conclusion you have come to and that you have engaged in some thought along the way. It will feel good, really.
[Update: The excellent UK Human Rights blog has picked up on this post and drawn it together with its own criticisms of reporting of human rights cases - a thoughtful and interesting post. They include a link to the Press Complaints Commission form. What a good idea, and here it is.]
[Update 2: The real problem with this sort of nonsense is that it all too easily becomes the accepted myth. Exhibit A, Christina Odone in the Telegraph produces a witless column based upon the Mail's story. She obviously wasn't going to bother to actually check its accuracy. Interestingly, Odone describes herself as " a journalist, novelist and broadcaster specialising in the relationship between society, families and faith", so another 'family law expert'. She is also "a Research Fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies". Is this a conspiracy or does the Centre for Policy Studies have a superfluity of such wind bags?]
[Edit: We are getting a lot of new visitors to this post - welcome - but for the benefit of those who haven't read the Yemshaw case, I should make clear that the Supreme Court did not decide on Ms Yemshaw's homeless application. It quashed the Council's decision that she was not homeless because she had not suffered physical violence or threats of physical violence. Ms Yemshaw's application now goes back to the Council to decide whether on the specific facts of her situation she was homeless by reason of domestic violence in the sense set out by the Supreme Court, or not. So there is no specific finding that the treatment Ms Yemshaw described constituted domestic violence. This is, of course, a point that wholly escaped the Daily Mail.]