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.