Eve’s Law: “Common sense with knobs on”
8 January 2014
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Justice of the Supreme Court Lord Sumption has said: “Most law is only common sense with knobs on.” This is certainly true of ‘Eve’s Law’.
Just before Christmas in the House Of Commons, shadow minister for justice Dan Jarvis raised a question which called upon the Government to implement Eve’s Law.
There is now a growing momentum for Eve’s Law to be placed on the statute book without delay.
What is the background to Eve’s Law?
Eve Thomas (a pseudonym), a survivor of domestic violence, narrowly missed imprisonment in August 2012 after she refused to publically disclose her safe/flee address during the course of small claims enforcement proceedings in a County Court.
Eve was prepared to provide her details privately to the Court but the Learned Judge could not guarantee that this information would not be released to the other side. Eve feared her abusive ex-husband would obtain this information but refusing to disclose her address would place her in potential Contempt of Court. In the end, Eve was saved from imprisonment when a friend came forward and settled the debt which the court had ruled Eve owed.
Eve’s plight was widely reported in the media and there were widespread calls for a change in the law. Eve sought legal advice and the full legal brief, which has now been submitted to the Ministry of Justice, is published here. The Ministry of Justice has promised to respond this month.
Eve’s case and numerous similar cases that have now been uncovered have highlighted a wider conflict between domestic legislation and the European Convention on Human Rights.
It is submitted, as per the legal brief served on the Ministry of Justice, that the current state of the law - failing to adequately protect the disclosure of the confidential contact details of victims of domestic violence by the courts and other agencies - violates Articles 1, 3, 8, and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights and is also in conflict with international law and developments in other areas of the law.
What is Eve’s Law?
Eve’s Law is essentially an umbrella term for a range of common sense but innovative measures that could be taken by Government via legislation to protect the contact details of victims of domestic violence being disclosed to the perpetrators of abuse, placing victims at further risk.
There is precedent created by Section 10 of the Electoral Administration Act 2006, which enables victims of abuse to register to vote anonymously when authorised by a registration officer, thus preventing victims being traced through the electoral register. The family courts also offer protection - although mistakes are still being made with addresses being accidentally disclosed on orders - and it is illogical that such protection falls away when an individual steps outside of the family courts.
It is proposed that Eve’s Law would create an ‘Eve’s Marker’, an order to mark the personal information of a victim of abuse as confidential and highly sensitive. These markers would be registered on a central database with approved multi-agency access. Markers would be personal to the victim, not based on an address, so that all contact information of the victim falls under the protection of the marker.
Eve’s Marker will create greater accountability and increase safeguarding for vulnerable victims. In effect, Eve’s Marker is a ‘red flag’ that will put the person who is handling the data on notice that it must never be disclosed unless and until exceptional circumstances demand it.
If you would like to support Eve’s Law you can sign the petition or contact your MP to sign the Early Day Motion.
David Malone is a barrister at Red Lion Chambers specialising in human rights, public law, regulatory law and criminal law cases, who supports Eve’s Law.