Domestic violence victims ‘routinely abused’ in family court – charity

Topics: Family and children,Courts business,Government & politics

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Campaigners have called for immediate action to protect domestic violence victims when they step into family courts to face their abuser.

Women’s Aid says protection afforded to people in the criminal court is not extended to the family court, with increasing reports of aggression at the court itself.


The problem has been brought into focus since 2013 with the increase in litigants in person since the advent of legal aid restrictions.

‘Verbal and physical abuse from the perpetrator towards the victim is routinely occurring on the family court estate,’ said Women’s Aid chief executive Polly Neate.

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

The issue has been taken up in the House of Commons by Houghton and Sunderland South MP Bridget Phillipson (pictured), a former abuse charity worker.

Phillipson has asked a series of questions in parliament trying to establish how many family courts have special access measures for victims of domestic violence, and what assessment has been made of the increase in LiPs.

The MP said: ‘All too often, women face the risk of further verbal abuse, intimidation, and even physical assault when attending family court hearings.

‘The case studies collected by Women’s Aid are part of a much wider problem. The family courts have a long way to go until survivors of abuse and their children receive the support and protection they need.’

Justice minister Caroline Dinenage said the family court takes the issue of domestic violence ‘extremely seriously’, with every family court having a system to support vulnerable court users.

‘Protective measures are put in place whenever this is considered to be appropriate,’ she said. ‘These can include separate waiting areas, additional security and the use of separate entrances where appropriate.

‘Parties can also request special measures such as the use of protective screens in the hearing or the use of a video link.’

Dinenage said the MoJ has improved funding for support and advice projects led by the pro bono sector to assist LiPs and provide them with the information and skills to effectively represent themselves in court. She added that legal aid is still available for certain family matters.

Readers' comments (14)

  • Although there may be a certain feeling that this is the case (i.e. particularly afterwards), I also suspect that it happens a lot. The question is how much and how to 'measure' independently and non emotionally, what is happening?

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  • Let's all take a deep dose of reality.

    Not all courts have a separate entrance.

    None of them have enough private consultation rooms (and that's before you find that this one is "reserved" for CAFCASS on Monday and that one for the Council on Tuesday and the next for the CAB on Wednesday!)

    All courts are approached through the same streets whether you are male or female, claimant or defendant.

    If they have anywhere to get a coffee it will be one machine or one counter for everyone.

    So the parties cannot really be kept apart.

    But most important of all: if the alleged perpetrator has been refused legal aid he will have to be allowed to act in person. And yes, that includes allowing him to cross-examine. And yes, litigants in person have to be given more rope than professional advocates, however upsetting that is for their opponents. The abominable breach of Article 6 which giving legal aid to one but not to the other party has consequences for the favoured party too, doesn't it?

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  • Local family courts have security staff, metal-detecting gates, ushers and separate waiting-areas and exits. If these measures cannot entirely protect applicants alleging domestic violence, imagine how much greater the risk will become when local courts close and are replaced with the 'pop-up courts' in public buildings with the Lord Chief Justice and Briggs LJ propose.

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  • Referring to Anon 3rd March 04:12.
    You make the assumption that all DV is male on female. This is also what Polly Neate and WA like to think. DV is an awful crime but it can be - and is - perpetrated by males and females, but impossible to assess true statistics. The family courts are awash false allegations of DV as this is, for most people, the only way of accessing legal aid. If one party has access to legal aid, shouldn't the other?

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  • Referring to Anonymous - 4 March 2016 - Do some research. e.g.
    “Women’s violence to male partners certainly does exist, but it tends to be very different from that of men towards their female partners; it is far less injurious and less likely to be motivated by attempts to dominate and terrorise the partner" The Law Commission has referred to one study which was significant in its account of what women did not do (but which constituted tactics frequently employed by violent men) - “No husband was threatened with a gun, or chased with knives, axes, broken bottles or by a car. Husbands were not kicked or stamped on, with steel-capped boots or heavy work boots. Strangling or choking were not used. No wife attempted suffocation with a pillow. Husbands were not locked out, confined to particular areas of the house, or isolated from friends. No wife has ever killed her husband inside Family Court premises or immediately following a Family Court ordered counselling session. Security is not routinely required to ensure wives do not behave violently inside Family Court premises”. Butterworth’s Family Law Journal Dec.2004.

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  • Referring to Anonymous 4 March 2016 - Where is your evidence that "Family Courts are awash with false allegations of DV...". Family Courts do not have the statutory powers, nor the expertise, nor the resources to undertake the investigation of child abuse which is inherent in domestic violence. Such allegations cannot therefore be proven nor disproven if they are made. The mere `opinions' of CAFCASS workers or Family Court Reporters are unsafe and unsound in a Court of Law if no statutory investigation has been undertaken.

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  • "...But most important of all: if the alleged perpetrator has been refused legal aid he will have to be allowed to act in person. And yes, that includes allowing him to cross-examine. And yes, litigants in person have to be given more rope than professional advocates, however upsetting that is for their opponents. .."

    A very true comment. The Govt., are scandalous taking away Legal Aid and the New Labour Party (particularly as Cherie Blair had a say in it) should never have done this.

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  • In further regard the your comments about `False Allegations’, this is a commonly-held view which is not supported by the research or the relevant professional community and is therefore grossly misleading when offered to Family Courts.
    The research [e.g. Monash University – Thea Brown et al] has consistently found that less than nine per cent (9%) of allegations made to Family Courts regarding allegations of child abuse and domestic violence can be shown to be `False’. Furthermore, such false allegations are made by fathers in 55% of such instances, therefore where such allegations are considered to be false, then fathers are responsible on the majority of occasions. It can therefore be said that believing in false allegations is a falsity and any court reporter [CAFCASS worker] who presents such a view does not presenting the views of the relevant professional community, unless they can present provable fact of such in specific instances.
    Furthermore, Evidence Acts state clearly that children and young people are competent witnesses and their testimony must be treated as reliable and credible. Added to this is research which shows that when children disclose that they have been sexually abused, in ninety-six per cent (96%) of instances the child is being truthful. [Michael Stinson, MSPH, CHES Director of Prevention Services J.J. Peters Institute, Philadelphia]. This can reasonably be extended to instances where children report other forms of abuse.
    It is further reasonable to assume therefore, that where children disclose or report abuse, that the child should be believed unless there is provable fact to the contrary and this would also be the view of the relevant professional community based on the research.

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  • I am a victim of abuse. My wife abused me verbally, mentally and physically for more than ten years. In 2003 I had a nervous breakdown and was diagnosed with severe depression and PTSD. After being attacked by my wife on several occasions (on one occasion the police had to gas her with pepper spray before she would drop the knife) I was advised by Hampshire police to leave home or there was a high likelihood of my being severely injured or killed. I left home in 2012 one evening having called the police to make sure that got out alive. I left with a suitcase and a few clothes. I had nowhere to go and was selecting a place to kill myself when a friend called and realizing that something was wrong, told me to come to his house in Thailand. I don't remember the flight. Later my wife divorced me. The firm of solicitors I engaged to help me simply stopped responding to my emails when I questioned why they asked for more money but had not supplied me with and accounts. By this time I was in Vietnam being looked after by a family I had met whilst working there some years previously. I had uno job ittle money and could not get to the UK the lawyers wouldn't talk to me so the court deemed that I had received all documents and found me guilty of being ill and gave everything I owned to my ex wife which included 2 houses and everything I had worked for during the last 40 years.. The lies my ex wife lawyers told in court were incredible. I found new solicitors, launched an appeal. The court contrived to have the hearing at 48 hours notice. There was no way I could get there in time and anyway I was now homeless and had no money. The appeal judge upheld the original courts decision. The banister representing me told the judge that his decision "flew in the face of common justice" to which the judge replied "He did not engage". Shortly after that I received notice of an appeal by post - several weeks after the date of the appeal. Note to the courts: Vietnam is not just south of Guildford, you can't just stick a thrupenny stamp on an important document and stick in the post and hope for the best. I wrote to the court to complain. Predictably there was no response.

    So my message to the judge: If you are ever sick, unable to cope, wash, dress ourself are in a coma or otherwise unable to perform normally, I will willingly steal your properties.

    The divorce courts are nothing but a sham, places where sick people are abused.. They are a national disgrace.

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  • I should also have said that since my ex wife had made it very clear me that she would hunt me down and kill me and feed my body to her dogs, no amount of court security guards, metal detectors or other court security measures would have prevented my ex wife from finding me and attacking me before or after the hearing. You people need to get real and try to understand what abuse does to people with severe depression and PTSD.

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