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.

“During the panel we all heard compelling evidence of the long-standing problems of the family court system where the impact of domestic abuse is often poorly understood, and parents placed in an adversarial process where the needs of children are often unrecognised. I believe that we must have a family court system that protects children and meets the needs of families. The panel’s recommendation of an approach which is investigative and problem solving, together with a court system that is adequately resourced to deal with the complexity of the issues before it, will take us closer to a system will be a significant step towards a system that protects female and male victims of domestic abuse and puts the needs of the child first”.

-Neil Blacklock – Development Director, Respect

Read the report here.

Respect is a registered charity in England and Wales, number 1141636, in Scotland, number SC051284 and a company, number 7582438. Registered address: VAI Second Floor, 200a Pentonville Road, London N1 9JP
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