Domestic Abuse and Human Rights (Jonathan Herring, Intersentia, 2020, c. £55) and A Practical Guide to Coercive Control for Legal Practitioners and Victims (Rachel Horman, Law Brief Publishing, 2019, c £30)
It makes sense to look at these two books together, one (Jonathan Herring’s) fresh off the press in October 2020 and the other, Rachel Horman’s published almost a year ago and embarrassingly stuck on my desk since then (I plead pandemic distractions), because they provide complementary, and important, perspectives on a crucial issue. Jonathan Herring’s is academic and theoretical, but none the less urgent, arguing that a human rights approach – in particular via the ECHR and the Istanbul Convention – requires states to take a proactive stance towards domestic abuse. Rachel Horman’s is, avowedly, and successfully, practical, aiming to help practitioners get abreast of the concept of coercive control and point them to the relevant factors they need to consider when advising clients.
Jonathan Herring’s book is particularly interesting – if to some extent frustrating – in its analysis of the contested term ‘domestic abuse,’ arguing (building on the work of Michelle Madden Dempsey) that it should be seen as the conjunction of three elements: coercive control, intimate relationship and patriarchal structural inequality. Whilst compelling, the argument is frustrating because – as Herring himself demonstrates by his examination of the abuse of parents by children and elder abuse – the combination of coercive control and intimate relationship is already so toxic a combination that this reader is left wondering why the third element is required or, more precisely, whether the patriarchal aspect of it is critical to Herring’s analysis. Without for one minute detracting from Herring’s identification of the (potential at least) for coercive control and patriarchal norms in all heterosexual relationships, a concern that drives much of his work, it is arguable that in this book at least, he does too good a job at framing all the different ways in which harms can be caused by abuse within other forms of intimate relationship to support the argument that the starting point for tackling domestic abuse should be the patriarchy. Further, removing the patriarchal element allows the abuse of individuals with disabilities by those whom they perceive to be friends (what I have sought – perhaps inelegantly – to characterise as proximity abuse) to be viewed through the same prism, including structural inequalities affecting individuals with disabilities. The same legal solutions would then open themselves up – including the positive obligations of the ECHR developed in a particularly good chapter in the book – as are being opened up in the context of domestic abuse.
I have a few other reservations about the work. I suspect that as a result of a requirement of the publisher rather than anything else, the citation style for Strasbourg case-law does not include the date of the decision, making the ability to trace its evolution unnecessarily difficult. More substantively, the chapter on legal responses to domestic abuse, whilst it has a particularly interesting and nuanced discussion of the criminal law position, does not – oddly, given Herring’s expertise in the area – in its discussion of civil remedies address those remedies which can be called upon without the consent of the victim (such as Domestic Violence Protection Orders or, even more recently, Stalking Protection Orders).
Nonetheless, as always with Herring’s work, the book is clear, stimulating and incisive, and in its analysis of the human rights approach to domestic abuse, compelling. And, notwithstanding the frustration noted above, that approach can be used with equal benefit by those with different primary concerns.
Rachel Horman’s book adds to the stable of very helpful books published by Law Brief Publishing as practical day-to-day guides for practitioners and others. As a practitioner specialising in the area of domestic abuse for over 20 years, she brings to the work a wealth of experience, which she uses to very good effect, especially in framing the judgment calls to be made around risk assessment and identification of a victim of coercive control, and also how best to navigate coercive control within the Family Courts. It packs a very practical punch within its short – 100 – page canvas, and is highly recommended for anyone who needs to get up to speed on this complex area; it also serves a very useful tool to support victims of coercive control in navigating the arcane and sometimes baffling workings of the courts.
[Full disclosure, I was provided with a copy of these books by the publishers at my request. I am always happy to review books in the field of mental capacity and mental health law (broadly defined).]