An article on the BBC website jumped out at me today: When a cobra became a murder weapon in India - BBC News.

It was a macabre report from India where a husband was sentenced to a double life sentence for buying a snake (a spectacled cobra) which he then used as a way to murder his wife. During the case, it came to light that he had already tried the same thing some months earlier with a different snake (a Russell’s viper). The wife had survived the viper’s bite and was actually recovering at her parents' house at the time the husband arrived with the cobra.

To me, this incident has strong echoes of florid detective fiction from the Victorian era (for example Sherlock Holmes and the Speckled Band) and it is tempting to file this away as something completely out of the ordinary that happened a long way from home.

Well, we may be right to do so when considering snake-based murders in the UK but sadly, murders in the UK perpetrated by a partner or ex-partner remain a shockingly common occurrence.

The direct link between domestic abuse and murder can sometimes be forgotten. This thought was reinforced when I attended a workshop given by the charity, SafeLives, at the Resolution Family Practice Conference this week. SafeLives are a UK-wide charity dedicated to ending domestic abuse, for everyone and for good. The workshop started with some key statistics about domestic abuse in England and Wales which included that:

  • each year nearly two million people in the UK suffer some form of domestic abuse
  • each year more than a hundred thousand people in the UK are at imminent risk of being murdered or seriously injured as a result of domestic abuse
  • each month, seven women are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales 

These are just a few of the statistics surrounding domestic abuse that are reported on the SafeLives website as taken from their own work as well as that of the Office of National Statistics.

This led me to reflect on another recent BBC article on domestic abuse. This highlighted the dramatic rise in domestic abuse cases being both reported and also dropped by the police in England and Wales. The reason that this happens is down to the six month time limit to charge someone for common assault. More reports seemingly lead to more cases reaching this time limit and so being dropped; nearly 13,000 cases over five years. The article also referred to a report by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary that three-quarters of all domestic abuse cases, including sexual assaults, are closed early without the suspect being charged.

Reading such articles, domestic abuse seems a problem that is getting worse not better and even with the excellent work of charities like SafeLives and other professional bodies to raise awareness, provide education and training to seek to reduce and, if possible, eradicate domestic abuse there is no quick fix.  

Already within the family law profession the level of knowledge, experience and expertise that we can deploy to help clients facing such situations is huge and the day-to-day work by family practitioners the length and breadth of the country is amazing but we cannot rest on our laurels. Given the strain and resource deficit of public bodies such as the police and the courts, the role of family law professionals is only going to grow. It is important that our awareness and knowledge of domestic abuse and how best to act for our clients in these circumstances keeps pace with advances in this area.

It can be hard to see any positives when talking about domestic abuse, but, having attended workshops at the Resolution Family Practice Conference and having spoken to colleagues and friends within the legal profession, it is clear that the level of awareness of domestic abuse and the impact it can have on families continues to grow at a significant rate. The opportunities for education and training, not just for those within the legal profession, is also increasing which can only be a good thing.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month which we support at Russell-Cooke. As part of the ongoing efforts to raise awareness in this area, I would mention our online Domestic abuse hub. This is an excellent general resource with easy to follow guidance on where to find support (including through the police, specialist charities and the court system) and what your legal and other options are if you are or know a victim of domestic abuse.