Domestic Abuse & The Family Courts

CWO Forum Monday 29th April

Domestic Abuse & The Family Courts

Committee Room 15, Committee Corridor, House of Commons, Westminster


Fleur Butler, National CWO Chairman

Lucy Frazer QC MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Justice

Dr Jenny Birchall, Research and Policy Officer, Women’s Aid

Anna Hall, Film Director, True Vision Yorkshire

Louise Tickle, Journalist

CWO Chairman Fleur Butler opened the meeting and welcomed everyone introducing the panel and introducing the first speaker Anna Hall..

Anna Hall – Journalist and film maker and has made a film about violence against women and children and made “Behind Closed Doors”(8 min film showing what happens day in day out)

Harrowing film, an eye opener from and Anna and Louise – cases they followed all the way through, one of these films is now used in magistrate training as well as working with police and social services Working on another film uncovering issues that happen in the family court.

Louise Tickle freelance journalist reporting in the family court for 4 years

Writes a column for family law journal as well as working on the need to safeguard children’s privacy. The family court is looking at different reasons to allowing the child a family life / assessing risk & controversial to remove a child from its parents based on a risk for something happening in the future. Ie no family life based on a possible risk

Journalists are prevented from reporting these cases.

Dr. Jenny Birchall – Women’s aid – Amplify the voices of those in domestic abuse to parliament

Top concern for family courts

child first campaign – 19 child homicides killed in cases of unsafe child contact

Good progress since 2016, Study of 72 women survivors of domestic abuse – safeguarding against further trauma and family courts

Common theme – domestic violence not taken seriously and led to unsafe decisions

24% directly cross examined by the perpetrator

69% emotionally abusive to their children – contact awarded to majority of the abusers

Allegations of child abuse outweighed by pro child contact

Human rights – report available

Using family courts as a method of post separation abuse

Recommendations – Independent inquiry Louise Hays bill supporting

Legal powers and safe guards that legislation used in the family court is correctly interpreted in the family courts, training, guarantee that survivors can have separate access eg to courts, better empowering support whilst going through family proceedings, without fear of losing your children.

Lucy Frazer MP – Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Justice

Portfolio includes family justice and court service and reforms.

Lucy mentioned programmes such as Anna’s shows us what is happening in the world out there.

In 1911 Judge said in a family court some people think that men and women should be treated the same ……. Not in this court women are the weaker vessel, Prior to 1911 women were not even considered people

Since the 1911 representation of people act, The legislation being made now is important but not making the great strides that were made in 1911, 2015 widened the scope of domestic abuse to include coercive control brought in screens to not see the abuser or video links.

Practice direction 12 J allegation of domestic abuse – fact finding hearing to assess whether there is a risk to the child, More funding of £20 million being made available to support victims of domestic abuse

In 2018 2 million adults experience domestic abuse which was a 23% increase

No fault divorce largely to protect children and indirectly assists those in domestic abuse

Nature of family proceedings

Settlement conference – discussion with the judge about what may happen in the future

Less adversarial proceedings

Questions from the Audience:

Q. Scrutiny versus privacy – What is the role of the press to hold up high standards.

LT – Support level up charity – campaign to report. Training and attitudes need to change. Bias and sexism expressed in newspapers.

LF – Open Justice is very important. Use digital evidence, video and hearings being held with no one in court. All decisions are determined by what is in the best interests of the child.


Q. The role that legal aid plays in the financial control of repeatedly going to court?

LF – Legal aid for some of the proceedings in the family court, where one party is getting legal aid the other party. Committed to looking at the legal aid thresholds and means test threshold for legal aid


Q. Legal aid is very difficult to get. Far more cases go to magistrate’s court – need a professional judge. How can you improve legal aid? How can victims navigate a legal system that needs legal training. How can victims present their case well when they have no experience or training?

LF – Recognises that people need support as they go through this, seen victims of domestic abuse , round tables with victims as a minister to look at what they can do

Legal aid strategy published Feb early support £5mn fund in tech innovation, different types of support, Removal of children into care with DfE, cafcas, LA, rising no of public care orders – look at how LAs can get these resolved before a court hearing

LF – Legal aid – can’t support everyone who goes to court, simplifying all our application processes, eg divorce, probate and childcare – applications can be submitted online


Q. Psychological abuse, difficult to speak to out, lack of understanding at front line to stop it ending up in a coroner’s court, appropriate support for victims of domestic abuse

Anna – awareness is changing coercive control law has helped. Training as coercive comes in how to document that evidence eg every text message. We as citizens have a responsibility to record and recognise.

LT – Put pressure where and when we can. Front line services – training is more effective by people who have been in that position. Social change is slow.

JB- Why does she go back, why is she not protecting her children, change attitudes

LF – Judiciary needs a culture change, police have been amazing, victims of domestic abuse be involved in making this culture change. CPS have domestic violence training.

LT – Balanced view, organisations be better funded – victims need support structure when you are at risk, organisations / judges find campaigning unconvincing


Q. Domestic violence abuse case per day
Depends on the individual policeman as to whether the case will go forward. Why does a particular form have to be completed there and then. Rise in violence against men and not just wife but her whole extended family, social services and housing long winded plus stigma.

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