Posted by Hannah Butcher, Solicitor
Why is the Government letting abusers bully their partners in court?
The Office for National Statistics reported in 2018 that some two million people are victim to domestic abuse, with the large majority of incidents directed at women.
This article was first published in The Telegraph.
Not all abuse is violent or physical, with cohesive and controlling behaviour, or gaslighting, increasingly prevalent. And in many cases that abuse does not stop when a relationship comes to an end.
This is no more starkly illustrated than in the long-running case of retired British Airways pilot, Mr Wilmot, who has led a 20-year campaign of harassment against his ex-wife, Viki Maughan.
The court, in addition to issuing a restraining order, has taken the usual step of barring Wilmot from making any further court applications without the permission of a judge.
There has been a long series of court hearings since Wilmot and Maughan’s separation in 1999, in what has been the longest-running child maintenance case in the UK.
The case concluded in 2018 with Wilmot ordered to pay £600,000 in unpaid child maintenance and Ms Maughan’s legal costs, totalling £40,000. He continues to deny that his daughter is his despite a positive DNA test, accusing his ex-wife of having an affair during their marriage.
Despite previous court orders seeking to curtail Wilmot’s behaviour, he continued his campaign against his wife and child, sending a torrent of emails to his ex-wife’s solicitor and bombarding the court with emails and spurious applications. He also reported his wife’s legal advisors to the police and to the regulators on suspicion of perjury and fraud.
The judge in granting a restraining order said Wilmot’s behaviour was “abysmal”, describing this as “one of the worst cases of vexatious litigation misconduct that I have ever encountered”.
The court’s decision means that if Mr Wilmot now pursues any conduct which could be considered to be harassment, this would constitute a criminal offence and he could face up to four years in prison.
The case is a reminder of just how the legal protections given to victims of abuse often fall short and take too long.
It also illustrates how dissatisfied husbands will often seek to use the court process as another weapon in their arsenal to continue to bully and control their ex-partners.
Maughan has had to endure an extraordinarily long campaign of abuse, go to great lengths in order to recover money to which she is legally entitled, and attempt to curtail Wilmot’s ability to interfere in her future life. This is against a background of significant cuts to Legal Aid and the time, stress and costs of defending applications can be too much for many women to deal with.
The Domestic Abuse Bill reintroduced in the recent Queen’s Speech has been hailed as a ‘landmark’ piece of legislation and “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to address this issue”.
It introduces for the first time a legal definition of domestic abuse that extends to financial abuse and controlling and manipulative behaviour. The bill will introduce a Domestic Abuse Commissioner to champion victims and survivors, new Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Orders to protect victims and restrict the actions of offenders, and to prohibit the cross-examination of victims by their abusers.
These are all admirable and desirable measures that will go some way to readdress the imbalance of protection to domestic abuse victims.
Yet, there are concerns that the protection offered, particularly the services proposed, will not be backed up by funding which will entirely undermine the effectiveness of the legislation.
To ensure that women receive the protections in law they need the government needs to bring forward this vital piece of legislation and, importantly, ensure that the funding is there to see it work.
Without it, victims of domestic will be left at the hands of their abusers.
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