The ex-wife of Chris Huhne – ex cabinet minister and Lib Dem MP Vicky Price will find out this week whether her defence of “marital coercion” has been successful in the defending charges of perverting the course of justice.
Rachel Horman head of Domestic Violence and Forced Marriage at Watson Ramsbottom solicitors believes that this archaic defence should be abolished. “This defence comes from a time when women were considered to be the property of their husbands and had to do as they were told. It presupposes that woman are weak cannot possibly defy the instructions of their husbands even when she knows that to do so would be a criminal offence. I am a passionate advocate for women’s rights but feel that this defence is just insulting. For a start – it is only open to women and not men, even though we know that men can be victims of domestic abuse from their female partners. Secondly it is only open to married women and not in cases where the couple may have co-habited for many years. Finally there is no requirement that the husband has to have exerted “coercive control” as we would define it now, eg. A pattern of controlling, abusive behaviour.”
“I have dealt with thousands of cases of domestic abuse and can think of countless cases where women have committed offences as they knew that if they didn’t they would be abused by their partners but this can also apply to men, co-habitees and same sex couples.
It would be far fairer for all concerned to repeal the defence of marital duress and replace it with a modernisation of the defence of duress which is open to all however currently requires a threat of immediate serious violence which would cause another person to act the same way. This would not be appropriate for all victims of Domestic Abuse who may not be experiencing actual violence but are being continually bullied and subject to psychological terrorism. The existence of and devastating impact of domestic abuse and coercive control has already been accepted by the government who in September 2012 announced that they were to change the guidelines followed by the police and CPS to encourage them to take action in these domestic abuse situations where there may not have been actual violence and also in November 2012 when the government announced a new criminal offence of stalking. A victim of stalking and coercive control would not need a threat of violence to be terrified for their life such is the effect of the ordeal they have suffered so the defence of duress must be updated to reflect that – this would of course be open to all, regardless of gender or marital status and would not propagate the view that women are expected to do whatever their husbands tell them and therefore the poor dears should be let off.”