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A new report commissioned by Women's Aid, 19 Child Homicides has found that 19 children have died over the past ten years as a result of contact with their Father, a perpetrator of domestic abuse. Whilst Women's Aid solely attribute the responsibility and blame to the perpetrators themselves, they argue that there needs to be a shift in the current culture that assists in the family courts.

Why?

Polly Neate, CEO of Womens Aid argues that the paramountcy principle of making decisions in the children's best interests is leading to a culture of contact "at all costs" despite a wider understanding of domestic violence within society. Ms Neate argues that women who are victims of domestic abuse continually face the ordeal of Court proceedings for contact.

In their survey, women's aid found that a quarter of sufferers from domestic abuse had been directly cross examined by the perpetrator. Furthermore, fifty per cent of women had no form of 'special measures' such as separate waiting areas, separate times. The overwhelming majority of those surveyed, 89 per cent, felt frightened during the proceedings. Polly Neate explains

"If one party is incapacitated by fear, because coercive control is being allowed to continue and facilitated by the way the case is heard, then they cannot be said to have fair access to justice."

Women's Aid, in their children first campaign argue that part of the problem lies with a lack of understanding of the nature of domestic abuse amongst social care professionals and the judiciary. The charity calls on the judiciary and other professional bodies to consider change, without such change we are 'in danger of creating a new paramountcy principle - a parent's right to contact which trumps the safety of children.' The two main recommendations of the campaign are:

1. Further avoidable child deaths must be prevented by putting children first in the family courts – as the legal framework and guidance states.

The government and courts must ensure that domestic abuse is identified and its impact fully considered by the family court judiciary. Child contact arrangement orders must put the best interests of the child(ren) first and protect the well-being of the parent the child is living with, in accordance with legal guidance surrounding domestic violence and harm. Women’s aid believes there is an urgent need for independent, national oversight to address this issue.

2. Make the family courts fit for purpose through the introduction of protection measures for survivors of domestic abuse.

Survivors of domestic abuse attending the family court must have access to protection measures, similar to those available in criminal courts. Survivors of domestic abuse should always have access to a separate waiting room or area, and judges must ensure there is time for the non-abusive parent to leave court safely before releasing the perpetrator.

Responding to the report and campaign the President of The Family Division, Sir James Munby states

“I welcome the publication of the ‘Nineteen Child Homicides’ report by Women’s Aid. This is a valuable report on an important issue which I take very seriously. I will consider the report with the care it deserves and identify the lessons that the judiciary can learn from it. I believe that other agencies in the family justice system may also benefit from the report and I look forward to discussing its conclusions with them and to taking joint action to address the findings of the report.”

As Domestic Violence continues to increase, we welcome any steps towards ensuring the safety of victims and their children. Clearly, establishing the balance between a child’s right to contact with their parents and the dangers a perpetrator of domestic violence may pose is a difficult issue, but one which requires further consideration by the Judiciary and other professional bodies.

If you are a sufferer of domestic abuse – we can assist you.At Ramsdens Solicitors, we have a team of highly experienced family solicitors and support staff who will provide you with expert legal advice regarding your circumstances. Domestic abuse #isneverok. Contact our family team on 08000 147720, email family@ramsdens.co.uk or text LAW to 67777 to arrange a free thirty minute consultation in any of our ten offices across West Yorkshire.