Ministers have announced a panel of experts will be providing recommendations on how the family courts can better protect children and parents in cases of domestic abuse and other serious offences. The panel will consist of senior members of the judiciary, leading academics as well as charities.
A public call for evidence will also be seeking views from those who have been directly involved in similar situations to share their experiences.
The three-month project follows on from concerned responses about how the family courts deal with potential harm to children and victims. Ministers now want to review how existing safeguards in the court process are working in practice and how best to strengthen them.
Measures have already been taken to improve the current system. The draft Domestic Abuse Bill, which was published at the beginning of this year, bans abusers from cross-examining victims in family courts. In February 2019, £900,000 was awarded to organisations that provide emotional and practical support to domestic abuse victims throughout their time in the family court. Additionally, £8 million of funding was announced to support children who are affected by domestic abuse.
The Government has confirmed the review will focus on:
- How the courts operate Practice Direction 12J (when domestic abuse is a factor in child arrangement cases)
- Reviewing the courts’ use of ‘barring orders’ which prevent further applications being made without leave of the court under the Children Act 1989
- Gathering data on the impact of the child and victim where child contact is sought by someone alleged to have, or has, committed domestic abuse or relevant offences
- How the family courts handle serious crimes (such as rape and child abuse) to ensure protections are in place for victims and their children
Paul Maynard, Justice Minister, concluded:
“Some of the most vulnerable in our society come before the family courts, and I am absolutely determined that we offer them every protection.
“The review will help us better understand victims’ experiences of the system, and make sure the family court is never used to coerce or re-traumatise those who have been abused.”
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