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Report calls on family courts to uphold domestic abuse victims’ human rights

Date:30 MAY 2018
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Women’s Aid have launched a report with Queen Mary University of London which highlights how the family courts are failing to uphold domestic abuse victims’ human rights by not consistently providing them with a safe and fair hearing which is putting children’s safety at risk.

Key findings of the report, entitled ‘“What about my right not to be abused?” Domestic abuse, human rights and the family courts’, reveal that:

  • One quarter of survivors (24%) surveyed reported that they had been cross-examined by their abusive ex-partner during the court hearings.

  • Three in five survivors (61%) reported that there were no special measures – for example, separate waiting rooms, different entry/exit times, screen or video link – in place in the court despite allegations of domestic abuse in their case.

  • Over two thirds of survivors (69%) reported that their abusive ex-partner had also been emotionally abusive towards their child(ren).

  • Almost two in five survivors (38%) reported that their abusive ex-partner had also been physically abusive towards their child(ren).

  • Unsupervised contact with an abusive parent was still most likely to be awarded with nearly one third of survivors (30%) reporting that this was the outcome in their case, while one in five survivors (21%) reported that sole residence was awarded to their abusive ex-partner.

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The Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, Katie Ghose, said:

‘The family courts should be a place of safety, where children’s rights are put first and where the concerns and fears of survivors of domestic abuse are listened to and respected. However, this report represents a stark reminder of what happens when this is not the case, and child contact proceedings instead become traumatic and dangerous environments for both survivors and their children …

Only by challenging the inequalities and discrimination within the culture of the family courts, and promoting the understanding of human rights that apply to all, can we make sure that ‘child first’ becomes the fundamental approach in child contact proceedings - not just in rhetoric, but also in reality.’

Among its recommendations the report calls for:

  • An independent inquiry into the handling of domestic abuse by the family courts.

  • Improved education and awareness raising for all professionals involved in child contact cases.

  • The Ministry of Justice and the President of the Family Division to clarify the approach on parenting in cases involving domestic abuse.

  • The creation of a national oversight group for the implementation of Practice Direction 12J.

  • The Government to ensure that supervised and supported contact options are regulated and safe.

  • The prohibition of cross-examination in family courts of survivors by their abusive former partners.

  • A guarantee of special measures for survivors of domestic abuse in the family courts.

  • Better regulation of expert witnesses in the family court.

  • Actions to prevent the family courts being used to perpetuate post separation and financial abuse.

  • Better, empowering support for survivors of domestic abuse.

  • Further research.

Read the report in full here.