Major overhaul of family courts to protect domestic abuse victims
Survivors of domestic abuse and their children will receive greater protections after the government this week announced an overhaul of how the family courts deal with the horrific crime.
Sweeping reforms will see more victims of domestic abuse given access to separate building entrances and waiting rooms as well as protective screens to shield them from their alleged abuser in court.
Ministers will also make it easier for judges to issue barring orders which prevent abusive ex-partners from repeatedly dragging their victims back to court – which can be used as a form of continuing domestic abuse.
The move comes after an expert-led review into how the family courts handle domestic abuse and other serious offences raised concerns that victims and children were being put at unnecessary risk.
Justice Minister Alex Chalk said:
Every day the family courts see some of the most vulnerable in society and we have a duty to ensure they are protected and not put in danger.
This report lays bare many hard truths about long-standing failings, but we are determined to drive the fundamental change necessary to keep victims and their children safe.
But this is not all we’re doing. Our landmark Domestic Abuse Bill will transform society’s response to this destructive crime – protecting victims and pursuing perpetrators more than ever before.
The expert panel was made up of representatives from charities, the judiciary, family law practitioners and academia, and took the views of more than 1,200 individuals and organisations.
It found that an adversarial process in the family courts often worsened conflict between parents, which could retraumatise victims and their children.
Fundamental reform of how the courts hear cases, through a new investigative approach, will be trialled as part of the Integrated Domestic Abuse Courts pilot – these consider family and criminal matters in parallel in order to provide more consistent support for victims. Emphasis will be placed on getting to the root of an issue and ensuring all parties are safe and able to provide evidence on an equal footing – without the retraumatising effects of being in court with an abusive ex-partner.
Additionally, Ministers will launch a review into the presumption of ‘parental involvement’ that often encourages a child’s relationship with both parents, unless the involvement of that parent would put the child at risk. It will examine whether the right balance is being struck between the risk of harm to children and victims, and the right of the child to have a relationship with both parents. The government welcomes this key recommendation which requires careful consideration to implement correctly – further details about the review will be announced in due course.