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On 15th September the House of Commons held a debate on Domestic Abuse Victims in Family Law Courts.
The debate was prompted by the January 2016 Women's Aid report Nineteen Child Homicides which highlighted the cases of nineteen children killed by perpetrators of domestic abuse. The report found that the killings were assisted by unsafe child contact arrangements, both formal and informal. Over half of the child contact arrangements were ordered through the courts. The report recommended that:
• further avoidable child deaths must be prevented by putting children first in the family courts
• there is an urgent need for independent, national oversight into implementation of Practice Direction 12J - Child Arrangements and Contact Order: Domestic Violence and Harm.
Several speakers referred to developments in the criminal courts to protect victims of domestic violence which are far more advanced when compared with the family courts. Keir Starmer MP stated
"… When I went along to the all-party parliamentary group on domestic violence and heard some of the evidence about family courts, I was struck by the fact that what I was hearing simply would not be tolerated in the criminal courts any more. Special measures are a norm in the criminal courts, and it would be thought to be the duty of the prosecution, the defence and the court to ensure that they are in place."
Mr Starmer also raised the issue of abuse of the court process.
"There are two types of abuse of process. First, there are the individuals who bring proceedings in which they have no legitimate interest: they are doing it simply to ensure that the person whom they have been stalking or harassing is forced to come to court to strike out their claim.”
"The second type of abuse of process is more difficult to deal with. In these cases, the perpetrator has an interest—a child, for instance—and it is therefore not possible to say that that individual simply should not be allowed to be in court at all. In those circumstances, it is a question of looking at special measures, support and different ways of arranging family and other courts to ensure that they are not used with ulterior motives, because there is growing evidence that is happening. These are difficult cases, but it must be possible to provide support for victims, special measures and, indeed, a more proactive role for judges.”
It is of course welcome that the Government is openly and publically discussing domestic violence and ways of improving the Court process for victims of domestic violence. The current system within the family courts that sees victims having to regularly face their abuser is clearly unacceptable.
If you are a victim of domestic violence or you know someone who is – we can help.
• In an emergency always dial 999
• We can obtain emergency, ex-parte (without-notice) non-molestation and occupation orders, preventing the perpetrator from contacting the victim, breach of which is a criminal offence.
• 24-hour support is available at charities such a Women’s Aid.
Contact our family team on 08000 147720, email email@example.com or text LAW to 67777 to arrange a free thirty minute appointment in any of our twelve offices across West Yorkshire