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Major overhaul of family courts to protect domestic abuse victims

Date:13 AUG 2020
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The government has announced an overhaul of how the Family Court deals with domestic abuse to provide greater protection to survivors of domestic abuse.

Proposed reforms include:

 • more victims of domestic abuse being given access to separate building entrances and waiting rooms as well as protective screens to shield them from their alleged abuser in court

 • stronger powers for judges to issue barring orders which prevent abusive ex-partners from repeatedly dragging their victims back to court—which can be used as a form of continuing domestic abuse

 • fundamental reform of how courts hear cases through a new investigative court process will be trialled as part of the Integrated Domestic Abuse Courts pilot—these consider family and criminal matters in parallel in order to provide more consistent support for victims. Emphasis will be placed on getting to the root of an issue and ensuring all parties are safe and able to provide evidence on an equal footing—without the retraumatising effects of being in court with an abusive ex-partner

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The reforms follow after an expert-led review into how the family courts handle domestic abuse and other serious offences raised concerns that victims and children were being put at unnecessary risk. The expert panel was made up of representatives from charities, the judiciary, family law practitioners and academia, and took the views of more than 1,200 individuals and organisations. It found that an adversarial process in the family courts often worsened conflict between parents, which could retraumatise victims and their children.

Additionally, ministers will launch a review into the presumption of 'parental involvement' (per section 1(2A) of the Children Act 1989) as to whether the right balance is being struck between the risk of harm to children and victims and the right of the child to have a relationship with both parents.