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A 'milestone' hearing as gaslighting used in High Court judgement

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The term gaslighting refers to the manipulation of another by making them question their perception on reality by forcing them to doubt their memory and pushing a false narrative of events.

The term was used in a High Court judgement in the family courts for the first time, marking this a ‘milestone’ hearing.

In an interview with The Independent, Charlotte Proudman, a leading human rights barrister who led this case said the term was given ‘legitimacy and credibility’ due to the judge’s use of it. She explained there has been no legal term to shed light on this issue, despite abusers distorting their victims’ ‘realities’ for a long time now.

Dr Proudman expressed that she was ‘delighted’ that the term had finally been used in a family court Judgement on 20 January and encouraged people to take notice of this ‘milestone’ moment. She went on to explain that the lady she had represented in late 2021 accused her partner of rape and domestic abuse, however the judge threatened to have her child removed from her, adopted and placed into care if she continued with these allegations. Dr Proudman argued that the partner had gaslit her and convinced her she had bipolar. Ms Proudman had previously used the term gaslighting in several cases, although the judge has either never been able to grasp the concept of it or felt it was not a ‘proper’ legal term.

Mr Justice Stephen Cobb, the High Court Judge who ruled on the case, helped write the law and guidance on how family courts tackle domestic abuse. Ms Proudman referred to him as a ‘leader in this field.’ Justice Cobb stated in the ruling that “Dr Proudman's use of the term 'gaslighting' in the hearing to describe this conduct was in my judgment apposite; the father's [partner’s] conduct represented a form of insidious abuse designed to cause the mother [woman Dr Proudman represented] to question her own mental well-being, indeed her sanity,”

Ruth Davison, chief executive of Refuge, the UK’s largest provider of shelters for domestic abuse victims, informed The Independent that ‘domestic abuse isn’t always physical. Gaslighting is a form of coercive control which has been a crime since 2015.’

On average, between two to three women are murdered weekly by their partners or ex-partners in England and Wales and one in four women will suffer domestic abuse at some point during their life.

A senior partner at Stowe Family Law, Julian Hawkhead, said ‘The facts of this case do sound truly shocking. Gaslighting as a description of a type of controlling manipulative behaviour has become increasingly common in recent times. “The family courts, over-burdened as they are with the sheer volume of cases they have to process, often have little time and give little heed to allegations of psychological abuse and to the amount of damage that this can cause,” Mr Hawkhead added. ‘’It is reassuring to know that the court is recognising the often invisible but long-lasting damage that can be caused by gaslighting.”