Lady Hale, leading a bench of five justices, said the definition of violence must change so that a range of abusive behaviour now counts in law.
The decision will affect domestic violence and family law which has given the courts powers to throw someone out of their home if their partner accuses them of violent behaviour. Until now violence has always had to mean physical assault...
Lady Hale said the meaning of the word ‘violence’ had moved on since Parliament passed the Housing Act. The word ‘is capable of bearing several meanings and applying to many different types of behaviour. These can change and develop over time’. The judge added that ‘it is not for Government and official bodies to interpret the meaning of the words which Parliament has used. That role lies with the courts.’
Firstly, the word's meaning has not shifted. Language develops through metaphor, and over time the fact that metaphor is being employed is lost, the metaphorical use becomes concretised in the new, slightly different meaning. No such process has occurred with the word violent. If I say 'he was a violent man', it is understood that the man did more than shout and stamp his feet. If I describe 'Glengarry Glen Ross' as a violent movie, people will be misled. As the clip below indicates, it is a very intense movie, gruelling, filled with verbal conflict, but it is not (unless my memory is letting me down) violent. Nobody gets beaten, no heads explode, no ears cut off. (For contrast, see Al Pacino in Scarface, which certainly could be called violent).
Secondly, even if the word's meaning had shifted, the original meaning of the law is not obscured. She has made a leap from judges interpreting the law, which I would say is little more than applying the law to real situations, to redefining the meaning of the words used, based on what she thinks the law should say, or would say if she was writing it. Thus I agree with Jill Kirby:
Family law expert Jill Kirby yesterday drew a comparison between the ruling and the Humpty Dumpty character in Lewis Carroll’s Through The Looking-Glass, who said words meant whatever he wanted them to mean.