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Davis v Johnson [1979] AC 264, HL

Exclusion orders of a cohabiting joint tenant from a matrimonial home under the Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1976.

Facts

An unmarried mother and the father of her child are cohabitants of a local council flat, of which they are registered as joint tenants. The man beat the woman frequently, employing extreme violence. The man threatened to kill her with a screwdriver as well as to chop her body up. The woman eventually fled from the flat with her child. She applied to the County Court for her right to return to the flat and an order to exclude the man from the flat under the Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1976.

Issue

Section 1(1) of the 1976 Act gives a county court the power to exclude a party from a “matrimonial home.” The question arose as to whether the 1976 Act could be interpreted to allow the exclusion of a joint tenant from a flat as well as whether its protection extends to unmarried cohabitees.

Held

Firstly, the House of Lords held that the effect of the 1976 Act is not allow a county court the power to grant an injunction to exclude a violent person from a home irrespective of whether or not the cohabitees are joint tenants. It is established authority that one joint tenant cannot lawfully exclude another joint tenant from property that they own jointly; yet, a court will be able to order a person out under the 1976 Act through an injunction which may be either permanent or temporary. Secondly, excluding debates from the House of Commons as an aid to statutory construction, the Court upheld a liberal interpretation of the Act and found that it confers the right to exclude a violent person from a home whether married or unmarried.


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