In the November 2010, the Green Paper Proposals for the Reform of Legal Aid in England and Wales the Government is seeking to limit the availability of public funding in ancillary relief, private law children and family proceedings to where:  

  • there is domestic violence (narrowly defined as risk of physical harm); and
  • to circumstances where that domestic violence can be evidenced by court proceedings, eg non-molestation proceedings, or criminal records.  

However, in the recent case of Yernshaw v London Borough of Hounslow Lady Hale concluded that “domestic violence” in section 177(1) Housing Act 1996 includes physical violence, threatening or intimidating behaviour and any other form of abuse that, directly or indirectly, may give rise to risk of harm. She said “physical violence” is not the only natural meaning of the word “violence”; another is “strength or intensity of emotion, fervour, passion”. Hale added that international and governmental understanding of the term had developed beyond physical contact.

This judgment gives ammunition to challenge the government’s plans and ensure that victims of non-physical domestic violence continue to receive legal aid. Initially, the government’s proposals looked like health visitors may have been drawn into such cases less but following this judgment this may not actually be the case. The judgment will also be of interest to those who work with patients who have children or family law issues.