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DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: Murray v Robinson [2005] EWCA Civ 935

Date:12 JUL 2005

(Court of Appeal; Lord Woolf LCJ, Thorpe and Lloyd LJJ; 12 July 2005) [2006] 1 FLR 365

Dismissing an appeal made against a sentence of 8 months imprisonment handed down for three breaches of a non-molestation and occupation order relating to sending threatening text messages and waiting outside the victim's house and chasing her when she drove off. If a case warrants a sentence near the top of the range, the appropriate course is probably to bring proceedings under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 rather than the Family Law Act 1996, so that the greater powers of punishment are available to the court. Whether or not there is any actual violence, it must be recognised by the courts that the sort of conduct that took place causes very great distress and anxiety to the partner of the offender. This is particularly true where the conduct occurs in or near the victims home. The guidance given in H v O (Contempt of Court: Sentencing) [2004] EWCA Civ 1691, [2005] 2 FLR 329) should be heeded. Regard should also be paid to R v Liddle; R v Hayes [1999] 3 All ER 816, and, in particular, the admonition to courts to treat domestic and other violence associated with harassment and molestation as demanding rather more condign deterrent punishment than formerly (see para [37]). The court dealing with breaches under the Family Law Act 1996 is limited in the range of sentences available to the criminal courts, yet the purposes of sentencing set out in the Criminal Justice Act 2003, s 42 are very relevant even in relation to family cases. The court is concerned to reduce crime and the breach of an order of the court is, in this context, a crime. The reform and rehabilitation of those who offend is important. The court must be mindful of the need to protect the public. If it is seen to ignore acts of contempt in this context, the message will be sent out that other partners will be at risk in the same way as the victim in this case.