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Domestic violence victim forced to leave hospital to defend herself in court, brands Family Division “archaic and out-of-touch” (27 April 2015)

Date: 27/04/2015
Duncan Lewis, Family Solicitors, Domestic violence victim forced to leave hospital to defend herself in court, brands Family Division “archaic and out-of-touch”

A woman who was brutally stabbed by her boyfriend as she slept is calling for the government to take a close look at reforming the UK’s family courts, after she was forced to leave her hospital bed to represent herself in court following the attack – and went on to spend £14,000 on legal action against her attacker, which she eventually won.

The Coventry Telegraph reports that mother-of-two Zoe Dronfield became locked in a bitter dispute in the Family Division of the court after she was served papers while still in hospital recovering from domestic violence.

She was still suffering the effects of the attack and had no time to prepare her case, which she lost.

In December 2014, Jason Smith, 31, was found guilty of the savage attack on Miss Dronfield on 2 February 2014, which had left her with serious injuries, including bleeding to the brain.

On 31 March, Warwick Crown Court sentenced Smith to 14 years in jail for causing grievous bodily harm (GBH) with intent. He will spend ten years in prison and four on licence. He was also given a one-month suspended sentence to run concurrently for causing criminal damage to Ms Dronfield’s front door on a previous visit to her home.

Smith of Bell Green in Coventry denied attacking Miss Dronfield, but a jury found him guilty by unanimous verdict.

The court heard Miss Dronfield had been trying to end their relationship and had agreed to meet him to talk. She went to bed and woke to find Smith demanding money from her, before attacking her with a meat cleaver.

At his trial, the court was told Smith was not a violent man – and that he regretted his actions and the attack was an isolated incident.

The couple had met on Facebook and at first the relationship appeared perfect – but Smith had lost his job and became depressed and his treatment of Miss Dronfield had changed. She said he became controlling and asked her to loan him large sums of money.

While recovering from the experience, Miss Dronfield went on to found the charity I Want My Mummy – and is urging the government to re-examine the UK’s family courts with a view to reforming them.

“What I went through was horrible,” said Miss Dronfield. “It was truly terrible –
but the legal battle was the worst aspect of it.

“I would rather be battered again than go through that. I was the victim of an awful crime, but I was treated like I had done something wrong.

“I think that if I hadn’t won the case I would have found it so much more difficult to recover.

“The family courts are archaic and out-of-touch. Ironically, I can’t think of a worse place for a family dispute to be discussed and resolved,” she added.

Before Parliament was dissolved pending the General Election in May, Coventry South MP Jim Cunningham submitted two Early Day Motions for debate.

Miss Dronfield – who works as a business development manager – is also working to reform the process around child arrangement orders, formerly known as residence orders.

She is also supporting a proposal for a serial perpetrator register and order, which could mean serial stalkers and domestic violence perpetrators would be subject to the same restrictions as sex offenders, including being tracked and monitored. The register and a court order against domestic violence perpetrators has been proposed by the national stalking advocacy service Paladin.

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For expert legal advice on all family law matters, call Duncan Lewis family solicitors on 020 7923 4020.

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