Women’s Aid England, Welsh Women’s Aid and Respect warmly welcome the publication of the Ministry of Justice panel’s report on assessing risk of harm to children and parents in private law children cases. The report recommends a fundamental reform of the child arrangements programme to protect child survivors of domestic abuse, and the charities call for this to be urgently enacted in order to make the family court system safer for domestic abuse survivors and their children.
Critically, the report recognises that domestic abuse is not effectively being tackled in private family law proceedings. The panel has found that the family court system is stacked against survivors – because of both the ‘pro-contact culture’ of the courts and the intersecting, structural disadvantages and discrimination, including sexism and racism – that are facing survivors of domestic abuse in proceedings.
The charities jointly welcome the report’s recognition that the current approach in the family courts can re-traumatise survivors of domestic abuse. The panel’s proposal is to redesign the system to respond to trauma and take a problem solving approach, coordinating with other areas of justice and agencies. The report’s focus on safety and security in courts is vital, including a guarantee of special measures in the family courts delivered through the domestic abuse bill, the involvement of specialist domestic abuse organisations and advocates in proceedings, and developing procedures to identify and manage applications used as a tactic of post-separation abuse.
The report validates our joint calls for urgent changes to a ‘pro-contact culture’ to protect children and non-abusive parents in child arrangements proceedings. We agree with the report’s conclusion that the current family court system is failing to protect many child and adult victims of domestic abuse – including from severe harm. The panel recommends that the legal presumption of parental involvement is reviewed urgently. We are clear that it should be removed in domestic abuse cases, and replaced with a contact system which always puts the safety and best interests of children first. The domestic abuse bill, which is set to conclude in the House of Commons in July, provides a timely opportunity to deliver a change to the presumption of contact – we must not miss this opportunity for transformative change.
Welsh Women’s Aid CEO, Sara Kirkpatrick said:
“Welsh Women’s Aid welcomes the publication of Ministry of Justice panel’s report on assessing risk of harm to children and parents in private law children cases. The report critically recognises the damaging experiences of survivors of the a ‘pro-contact culture’ of the courts and siloed approach that left them and their children unsafe and at risk of further harm and abuse.
“The proposed fundamental changes are needed to create a system that is safety-focused, trauma aware and takes a problem-solving approach. We look forward to the urgent enactment of the recommendations including a guarantee to special measures, the involvement of specialist support during proceedings, and developing procedures to identify and manage applications used as a tactic of post-separation abuse.
“Critically the reports recognition of alignment with the Welsh devolved context is vital to ensuring the whole system delivers maximum protection, safety and support for all survivors of abuse.”
A survivor of domestic abuse who has experienced the family courts first hand, said:
“Family court procedures are a harrowing, frustrating and frightening experience. My mother’s values, parenting approaches are unpicked and presented as evidence of being ‘over-protective’ while the complexities of domestic abuse and coercive control are ignored in court.
“The Judge and Cafcass officers show little understanding or curiosity with regards to my evidenced claims. This lack of rigour, awareness and training emboldens the perpetrator to misuse the system so he can maintain power and control of the mother and children’s lives.
“The recommendations in this report must be implemented with urgency so that myself and others do not have to go through these experiences again.”
“Mae gweithdrefnau Llys Teuluol yn brofiad dirdynnol, rhwystredig a brawychus. Mae fy ngwerthoedd fel mam a fy nulliau magu plant yn cael eu datbwytho a’u cyflwyno fel tystiolaeth o fod yn ‘or-amddiffynnol’; tra bod cymhlethdodau trais yn y cartref a rheolaeth gymhellol yn cael eu hanwybyddu.
“Mae’r Barnwr a Swyddogion Cafcass yn dangos diffyg dealltwriaeth a chwilfrydedd yn fy nhystiolaeth a fy honiadau. Mae’r diffyg cywirdeb, ymwybyddiaeth a hyfforddiant hwn yn y llys yn annog y cam-driniwr i gamddefnyddio’r system fel y gall gadw pŵer a rheolaeth dros fywydau’r fam a’r plant.
“Rhaid gweithredu’r argymhellion yn yr adroddiad hwn ar frys fel na fydd yn rhaid i mi ac eraill fynd trwy’r profiadau hyn eto.”
You can read the Ministry of Justices’ statement here.