Respect welcomes a new report published today by the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, highlighting ongoing concerns about how the family courts system impacts survivors of abuse, including children. As part of the report, the Commissioner outlines her plans for wholesale reform of the system.

This report follows one published by the Harm Panel in 2020, Assessing Risk of Harm Children and Parents in Private Law Children Cases, which revealed that systemic failings were undermining the courts’ ability to accurately assess the risks posed by domestic abuse. Whilst some reforms have been made in line with the report’s recommendations, a recent survey conducted by the Commissioner found that 80% of legal professionals felt the Family Court in its current state was “likely” or “very likely” to re-traumatise victims and survivors of domestic abuse. 

Survivors and practitioners describe a number of issues arising from Family Court system, including:

  • A lack of transparency making it difficult to understand the volume of inconsistencies and practice failures
  • A lack of understanding around domestic abuse leading to the minimisation of abuse, and with it, re-traumatisation
  • A lack of consideration of the voice of the child and the harm caused to children through unsafe contact orders, especially in cases of so-called “parental alienation”.

The discredited concept of “parental alienation”, and the impact of allegations on survivors and their children, is examined in detail as part of the report, with the Domestic Abuse Commissioner recommending that the Family Court be extremely robust in its ability to identify and engage with abusive tactics used within the Family Court setting.

To achieve true reform, the Commissioner details 10 recommendations, including ones that focus on culture change, greater transparency, sustainable funding, survivor support and advocacy, and increasing the Court’s focus on the voice of the child.

We echo the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s calls for change, and we support their ask for reform in this area. We continue our campaign for the Ministry of Justice to restore a domestic abuse perpetrator programme (DAPP) pathway through the family courts since its dissolution in 2022.

Read the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s full 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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