The often stressful, protracted and adversarial process currently in place in the family court can have the effect of worsening conflict between parties, which in turn can cause further trauma for victims of domestic abuse and their children. The family courts often have to conduct cases involving some of the most vulnerable in society, and so it is essential that the place they come to seeking protection does not exacerbate the harm already suffered.
The family courts often conduct cases involving some of the most vulnerable in society, and so it is essential that the place they come to seek protection does not exacerbate the harm already suffered.
Thankfully, on 25th June 2020 the government announced a major overhaul of how the family courts are able to hear cases and how it aims to protect domestic abuse survivors and their children. The steps put in place to improve protection for abuse victims in the family court include:
- Ensuring more victims will receive special protections in court, including the use of separate entrances from their alleged abuser, separate waiting rooms and protective screens in the court room to help shield them from their alleged abuser;
- Powers being made more readily available to judges to issue barring orders to prevent abusive ex-partners from repeatedly dragging their victims back to court, which can be a form of continuing abuse and control;
- Reviewing the presumption of “parental involvement” and whether the right balance is struck between the risk of harm to children and victims, with the right of the child to have a relationship with both parents;
- Trialling an “investigative” or “inquisitorial” problem-solving approach for judges in private family law proceedings as part of an upcoming pilot of Integrated Domestic Abuse Courts. This could see judges deciding to intervene in lines of questioning and steering what evidence to investigate, rather than both parties (or their lawyers) presenting their cases against each other;
- Further encouragement of judges to intervene to prevent the victim being re-traumatised by having to face questioning from their alleged abuser; and
- Trialling a “one family, one judge” system where criminal and family proceedings are combined to prevent additional trauma for victims to have to give evidence on multiple occasions during parallel proceedings.
The Domestic Abuse Bill is currently at the report stage in the House of Commons with a number of reforms to be included. It is hoped that these measures will offer better protections within the family court system to victims of domestic abuse and their children. The emphasis of the above measures is on getting to the root of an issue and ensuring that those involved in court proceedings are safe and able to provide evidence on an equal footing.