In 2016, Dr. Elana Fric-Shamji was murdered by her husband two days after she asked for a divorce. Her three children were in the other room. She was later found in a suitcase by the Humber River. Her husband Dr. Mohammed Shamji, a surgeon, pleaded guilty to second degree murder on April 8, 2019.
Every lawyer practising family law deals with allegations of domestic violence in their practice. Some allegations are proven and true, some are not proven but true, and some are not proven and false. So, how are we lawyers able to differentiate the true from false allegations of domestic violence and better protect families?
I for one have had many sleepless nights worrying about the safety of my clients and their children. I have witnessed clients withhold, discount or diminish spousal or child abuse out of embarrassment. I have witnessed clients being accused of, and caught for, fabricating false allegations. I have witnessed clients honestly report the abuse, but then regret it because a judge diminished its relevance. I have witnessed very capable lawyers cross-examine victims of domestic violence with questions such as:
If it were true, why didn’t you go to the police when it happened?
Do you have any therapy notes to prove it?
What about photographs of the injuries?
Aren’t you just saying this to get custody of the kids?
So, how do we lawyers become better equipped to address allegations of domestic violence?