Professor Chris Barton, A Vice-President of the Family Mediators Association, Academic Door Tenant, Regent Chambers
This article considers the development of the law regarding ill-treatment committed by one family member on another, specifically with regard to domestic partners and parent and child respectively.
With regard to domestic partners, the law’s historical attitude to both physical and mental abuse is examined, together with that towards different-sex marital rape. Wives are – now – as legally immune from husbandly imprisonment, kidnap, assault and rape as they are from such attacks by strangers and it is a long time since our law took an asymmetrical approach to spouse-murder. Today, the protection first granted by the Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1976, followed by such as the Domestic Proceedings and Magistrates’ Courts Act 1978 and Part IV of the Family Law Act 1996, has now culminated in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. Surprisingly, it as only recently as 30 years ago that the House of Lords in R v R, by denying that on marriage she consented in perpetuity, removed the last vestiges of husbandly immunity from the criminal charge of raping his wife.
Finally, it is acknowledged with reluctance that the parents may still legally strike their children under the blanket of ‘reasonable chastisement’ if only, since the Children Act 2004 to the extent of common assault.