The government is to take a closer look at how well the family court is protecting children in response to concerns that they are exposed to potential harm in domestic abuse cases.
The Ministry of Justice will convene a panel of experts for a three-month exercise to ensure the family court ‘works first and foremost in the explicit interests of the child’, prioritising their safety, health and wellbeing. The panel will include senior members of the judiciary, academics and charities. A call for evidence will be issued ‘imminently’ to hear from those directly involved in cases.
The ministry says the review follows concerns raised in its domestic abuse consultation about the family court’s response to potential harm to children and victims. Concerns were also raised that alleged perpetrators of domestic abuse were using the court system to re-traumatise their alleged victims.
Justice minister Paul Maynard said: ’Some of the most vulnerable in our society come before the family courts, and I am absolutely determined that we offer them every protection.
‘This review will help us better understand victims’ experiences of the system, and make sure the family court is never used to coerce or re-traumatise those who have been abused. Its findings will be used to inform next steps so we can build on the raft of measures we have already introduced to protect victims of domestic abuse.’
The panel will examine practice directions relating to child arrangement cases where domestic abuse is a factor, look at the court’s application of ‘barring’ orders, and gather evidence on the impact on the child where contact is sought by someone alleged to have, or who has, committed domestic abuse or other relevant offences.
The ministry said the latest work will build on its draft domestic abuse bill, which will ban the direct cross-examination of domestic violence victims by their alleged abusive ex-partners in court. Organisations are also being given £900,000 to fund specially trained staff who will offer emotional and practical support to domestic abuse victims before, during and after family court hearings.
Law Society president Christina Blacklaws said the review was long overdue. 'Reinstating legal aid for early advice and updating the means test will help to ensure domestic abuse is identified at the earliest possible point and children are properly protected from parents with a history of violence,' she said.