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Mother-in-law harassment: Singh v Bhakar

Date:13 OCT 2006

John Rosley, Rosleys Solicitors, Nottingham, Solicitor for the claimant. The case of Singh v Bhakar in which judgment was delivered in the Nottingham County Court on 24 July 2006, received a remarkable amount of national and international attention. The Recorder, Timothy Scott QC, in a reserved judgment running into 38 pages recognised the high emotion of the case and the element of campaigning for the benefit of others that at least partly motivated the claimant. Nevertheless, it still came as something of a surprise to the claimant herself and the lawyers involved that the media were so fervent in the pursuit of the story.

The case represents an important step in the development of the statutory tort of harassment. In Singh v Bhakar the harassment constituted the deliberate abuse of a young Sikh woman (Gina) by her mother-in-law after Gina married into what she believed to be a modern and westernised Sikh family and joined her husband in his extended family home in London. Gina's case was not unusual nor was it at the extreme end of the spectrum when considering the level of abuse suffered by young women in similar situations. The publicity given to Gina's case has encouraged many other women to come forward and seek help. It remains to be seen whether, within the present climate in relation to public funding, any effective access to justice will be offered to these women, most of whom will require legal aid to pursue any redress.

It is important to note that Gina's case was a free standing application for damages under s 3 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and as the claim was made some time after the events complained of had already taken place, there was no application for an injunction included in the claim. The water remains to be tested but it may well be the Legal Services Commission will treat such applications as money claims similar to personal injury actions or possibly ancillary relief in divorce.

The full article is now available in the forthcoming section of the Family Law journal online. The article will also appear in November [2006] Fam Law.