In yet another landmark ruling, the Supreme Court has held that the definition of 'domestic violence' for the purposes of the Housing Act 1996, section 177 (homelessness) is not limited to violence involving physical contact, but also includes threatening or intimidating behaviour and any other form of abuse which, directly or indirectly, may give rise to the risk of harm.

In so doing, the Supreme Court overturned the decision of the Court of Appeal in Danesh v Kensington and Chelsea RBC (2006) that 'violence' in this context required some physical contact and did not include threats of violence or acts or gestures which lead a person to fear physical violence.

The Supreme Court's decision is already proving to be controversial with a number of commentators fearing that it could 'open the floodgates' to claims which might detract from the courts' ability to deal expeditiously with serious cases involving 'physical violence'.

In explaining its decision, the Supreme Court said that although 'physical violence' is one natural meaning of the word violence, it is not the only natural meaning. Since 1996 the meaning had been expanded and moved on from a narrow focus upon battered wives and physical contact. 'Violence' was not a term of art but was capable of bearing several meanings and applying to different types of behaviour which can change and develop over time.

It will be interesting to see how the case law in this area develops.

Yenshaw v Hounslow London Borough Council (2011) UKSC 3, 26 January 2011