Family courts to be reformed to protect abuse victims and children
The government is planning sweeping reforms of family courts to give domestic abuse victims more protection and remove the rights of abusers to have contact with their children in some cases.
The new measures will make it easier for judges to issue barring orders to prevent abusive ex-partners from repeatedly dragging their victims back to court – which can be used as a form of continuing domestic abuse.
Victims will also be given access to separate building entrances and waiting rooms as well as protective screens to shield them from their alleged abuser in court.
The proposed changes are part of the Domestic Abuse Bill and come after an expert-led review into how the family courts handle domestic abuse raised concerns that victims and children were being put at unnecessary risk.
The proposals include:
Trialling an investigative, problem-solving approach in private family law proceedings as part of an upcoming pilot of Integrated Domestic Abuse Courts. This could see judges decide what evidence to investigate, rather than both parties presenting their cases against each other.
Giving automatic entitlement for special measures in the courtroom for victims of domestic abuse going through the family courts – such as separate waiting rooms, entrances and screens – via a further amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill.
Reviewing the presumption of ‘parental involvement’ and whether the right balance is struck between the risk of harm to children and victims, with the right of the child to have a relationship with both parents.
A commitment to change the provision on ‘barring orders’, which prevent abusers repeatedly dragging ex-partners back to court over child arrangements. Ministers will review whether this is best done through legislative or non-legislative means.
Inviting the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and Victims’ Commissioner to monitor and report on private family law proceedings involving victims of domestic abuse.
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.
Justice Minister Alex Chalk said: “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.”
The Domestic Abuse Bill is now making its way through parliament. We shall keep clients informed of developments.
If you would like more information or advice about the issues raised in this article, or any aspect of family law please contact our expert legal team on 02080040065, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or using the form below.
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