OPINION: We hope this review on Get refusal will lead to a mindset shift

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OPINION: We hope this review on Get refusal will lead to a mindset shift

Solicitor Gary Lesin-Davis, who has taken on get refusal cases, reflects on the law being clarified to criminalise those won't agree to a divorce

Gary is the only UK solicitor who has taken on get refusal cases and was part of the legal team that pioneered private prosecutions. He was involved in writing the statute amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill to clarify get refusal as controlling or coercive behaviour.

The report is a positive step in terms of recognising the importance of the offence of controlling and coercive behaviour in tackling domestic abuse generally. 

But one of the notes of caution in it is that there was evidence of insufficient training on the part of the police in relation to this offence and a lack of awareness in the various prosecution agencies of the police and the CPS. The police seem to find it difficult to deal with because unlike a physical assault there is no obvious external evidence of the harm caused by coercive controlling behaviour. 

As the Serious Crime Act only came into force in December 2015, any conduct before this date cannot be prosecuted. But you can get around that because very often, it is a continuing offence, because the controlling and coercive behaviour continues every day. In a get refusal case the fact that a husband physically beat or sexually abused his wife in the early 2000s, for example, and now refuses a get, means she suffers every day, today, tomorrow, yesterday on the effects of that refusal. So, you can use that in a criminal prosecution.

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Until this Act, there was no sanction for this behaviour. Yes, the Beth Din could sanction him. But the tools available for the Beth Din do not work in all cases.

In the UK, so far, no one has gone to prison. But the Act was first used in this context only about 18 months ago. The first case we took on concluded in satisfactory way because we prosecuted an individual in the Crown Court and just before the trial, he said “l’ll go to the Beth Din and willingly give the get.” He gave the get and we withdrew allegations. But had we taken this to trial, he would have been convicted and jailed. 

What I hope will happen in due course is that this will change the mindset of people. Using get refusal or the withholding of the get as a weapon will cease to be acceptable. As time goes on husbands will realise that this is not a course of action they will want or feel able to take.

  • Gary Lesin-Davis, solicitor

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