Abuse survivors ‘re-victimised’ through family court process

Topics: Family and children,Legal aid and access to justice

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  • Polly Neate

Victims of domestic abuse should not endure the trauma of being cross-examined by their abusers in court, a national charity has recommended in a study on child deaths.

Women’s Aid’s report, Nineteen Child Homicides, tells the stories of 19 children who were killed by a parent who was also a perpetrator of domestic abuse, in circumstances relating to child contact.

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This is the charity’s second report. Its Twenty-nine Child Homicides report, published in 2004, gave details of 29 children in 13 families who were killed between 1994 and 2004.

In its latest publication, the charity said cases it reviewed from January 2005 to August 2015 ‘demonstrate failings that need to be addressed to ensure that the family courts, Child and Family Courts Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass), children’s social work and other bodies actively minimise the possibility of further harm to women and children’.

The report states that the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, which came into force in April 2013, was one of the ‘major’ changes to the family justice system that ‘compound the barriers often faced by survivors of domestic abuse and the increasingly complex and arduous routes to safe child contact.

The act ‘has severely curtailed eligibility for legal aid in private family law cases’, the report states.

‘Although legal aid is available for court proceedings where a party can produce specified evidence of domestic abuse (referred to as the Domestic Violence Gateway), there are many cases in which the necessary evidence under the [gateway] is either unavailable or unobtainable, so that victims of domestic abuse disputing contact are forced to become litigants in person.

‘As a consequence, survivors find themselves being cross-examined by the perpetrator of domestic abuse, or by the perpetrator’s barrister, and they may also have to cross-examine the perpetrator themselves.

‘This leaves women in a very vulnerable position where they may not be able to have access to a fair hearing.’

The charity recommends that the Ministry of Justice and family court judiciary ensure domestic abuse survivors representing themselves in court as litigants in person ‘will not be questioned by their abuser, or in turn have to question their abuser’.

Women’s Aid chief executive Polly Neate (pictured) said there was a ‘misguided belief’ within the family courts and among judges that ‘because a relationship has ended, so has the domestic abuse’.

Neate said: ‘Survivors frequently report to us that they and their children are re-victimised by their abusers, even after separation, through the family court process.

‘This trauma makes it extremely difficult for the non-abusive parent to advocate clearly and effectively for the safety of their child.’

Neate said protection measures were in place in the criminal courts to give victims ‘fair’ access to justice. ‘This is not the case in the family courts.’

The charity has also unveiled a new campaign, entitled ‘Child First’, calling on the family courts and government to put childrens’ safety ‘back at the heart of all decisions made by the family court judiciary’.

Readers' comments (13)

  • DOES THIS ALSO APPLY TO MEN BECAUSE YOU ONLY MENTION WOMEN. IS THAT NOT DISCRIMINATION ?????

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  • Yes because I have just as sadly met quite a few of them. And very vicious attack they endure as well.

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  • Thomas Mann - Why the capitals...

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  • you can thumbs down all you want, but the facts are facts if the statistics are to be believed, where if we are to believe them for the WOMEN, then we are to believe them for the MEN too. . And those properly done statistic are now starting to show that the rate of MEN being domestically abused have reached almost that of the same levels as WOMEN. And so shame on you all on this forum who refused to acknowledge and or accept it and so much for the good of the Equality Act

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  • And unless you have had the misfortune of having to deal with MEN who have been domestically abuse which I HAVE, you need to just be quiet

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  • I have given advice to a friend (male) who endured, and endures physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his partner. I have also acted for women who have been the victims of spousal abuse.

    Please can I urge this vitally important issue to be discussed without reducing it to, dare I say, a battle of the sexes?

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  • @Anonymous20 January 2016 04:48 pm

    With all due respect, in principal I am in agreement with your post, however it was the ARTICLE itself, that reduced this topic to a matter of mere battle of the sexes and not those who went on to NOTICE it

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  • If memory serves me right during the much publicised 29 Child report by Womens Aid between 1994-2004 there were 825 children killed over those 10 years while being looked after by the mothers or new partners/boyfriends. And LJ Wall demonstrated I believe that only 4 of the children killed were subject to Court proceedings. Any child killed is an awful crime. What is sickening is to see political capital being made out of it.

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  • "Domestic Violence Gateway". Who coined such a benign term for what in practice is an odious, impractical process?

    LASPO must go down in history as one of the most regressive, vicious pieces of legislation ever passed. The downstream social costs that arise from the folly of LASPO wiil dwarf the modest savings in legal aid.

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  • "The charity recommends that the Ministry of Justice and family court judiciary ensure domestic abuse survivors representing themselves in court as litigants in person ‘will not be questioned by their abuser, or in turn have to question their abuser’.

    So the complainant makes her witness statement but the alleged perpetrator can't question her.

    Very Article-6 compliant!

    Sorry, I know it's hard, but both sides have a right to a proper hearing and this is not compatible with it.

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