This news story got our attention this morning, because it is extraordinary.
A judge has decided to delay a couple’s request for a restraining order to be lifted so that they can rekindle their marriage, which suffered as a result of the husband’s violence towards his wife.
Judge Jamie Tabor QC, who has since cut short the 7 year restraining order which was granted in 2010 (and which the couple now need only serve a further 6 months), has decided that if the couple can get along over the phone for the remaining period before having any physical contact, he will allow them to reapply to have the order lifted.
The decision will cause some to bristle in the more Libertarian camps across the country: should a judge ever have the right to stand between two consenting adults, regardless of what has gone before? Mr Nash received a two-year supervision order, a restraining order for seven years, and ordered to do 100 hours of unpaid work, as a result of violent behaviour towards Mrs Nash. He has since complied with all orders. Mrs Nash, we are told, initially contacted her husband to see if the Order could be lifted, as she missed him and wanted him home. Both she and Mr Nash were lonely without each other, and wanted to reconnect. Judge Tabor’s concessions then, may appease the more relaxed Libertarians amongst us: he has effectively reduced a huge chunk of time to run on the Restraining Order and will allow the couple to reapply to have the order lifted once the 6 months remaining have run their course.
The decision has been welcomed by domestic violence charities too, as one which is insightful and on the button. A decision which whilst somewhat intrusive, is designed to balance out protecting the vulnerable party, Mrs Nash, whilst trying at worst, not to prevent a reconciliation of marriage, and at best, to encourage a fruitful attempt. By delaying a fully fledged rekindling of their marriage, the judge hopes to tread a cautious line between personal freedoms and protection of the vulnerable.
But are the Libertarians and the charities right?
At Researching Reform, we can’t help but think the answer is no. The crucial issue here doesn’t lie in whether or not Mr Nash will be able to speak politely over the telephone for the next 6 months. Anyone who has worked in the field of domestic violence will know that perpetrators of this kind of behaviour can be keenly charming over the telephone, and that this kind of ‘test’ will have no bearing at all on how Mr Nash will behave in person, towards Mrs Nash.
Mr Nash’s probation officers are also clearly concerned: Mr Nash, they say, still seems to have no understanding of the severity of his actions, and is not ‘really committed to changing”. Mrs Nash too, is in a bad way. When asked by Judge Tabor whether she would know what to do if Mr Nash hit her again, she said that she did not know.
So, in 6 months’ time, if phone contact goes well, Mr Nash and Mrs Nash may recommence their relationship under one roof. But what will Mrs Nash do, if Mr Nash hits her? This, for us at least, is the most important question of all. And it doesn’t seem that anyone involved in this case has focused on this for more than a fleeting moment.
For all their excitement at Judge Tabor’s seemingly erudite balancing act, the domestic violence charities, like Women’s Aid and RISE have not asked the one crucial question: did Mr and Mrs Nash receive any kind of counselling or therapy throughout this process?
There is no mention of anyone being given proper treatment in this case. Mr Nash appears to have had conversations with the probation service about his conduct, but no therapy. Mrs Nash, although widely accepted to be the victim, does not seem to have been offered any kind of counselling for this.
And all of this goes a rather long way to explaining why, three years on from the creation of the Restraining Order, neither Mr Nash, nor Mrs Nash have any better understanding of what went wrong the first time round.
A recipe for disaster, not a delicate balancing act, then. If Judge Tabor really wants to do this couple a favour, and please all camps in this case, he will need to think long and hard about sending two people back into a marriage still marred by misunderstanding and malign conduct.