In an important legal decision a wife has won £35,000 in compensation for harassment by her mother-in-law. Gina Satvir Singh, 26, was bullied persistently after she went to live with her new husband's family. The marriage broke up four months later. Mrs Singh brought a successful action against her mother-in-law, Mrs Dalbir Kaur Bhakar, under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
While she lived with her mother-in-law, Mrs Singh was subjected to a frightening array of restrictions and impositions. She was forced to do endless household chores, beginning at 6.30 am, was given a haircut against her will, in the full knowledge that it was against her religious beliefs, and was not allowed to choose the clothes she wore. The court also heard how she was forbidden to leave the house unaccompanied, could not visit the local Sikh temple and was only allowed to make a single telephone call each week.
As a result of the amount of cleaning she had to do, at one point Mrs Singh contracted a hand infection. Unfortunately, Mrs Bhakar did not allow her to register with a GP and so her hand was left untreated.
Mrs Singh eventually moved out of the house four months into her marriage when her father-in-law contacted her father and asked for her to be taken away. She was divorced not long afterwards. The experience caused considerable mental anguish to Mrs Singh, who is now depressed and on medication.
In court, Mrs Bhakar denied the allegations but Recorder Timothy Scott did not accept this and made the award against her. He said that Mrs Bhakar had conducted a humiliating and 'incomprehensible personal attack' on Mrs Singh.
It is believed to be the first time the Protection from Harassment Act has been used against a family member. The legislation was originally designed to protect individuals from nuisances such as stalkers and conduct causing a fear of violence.