“Finally, Jack and Paul have a voice”: Child First Debate in Parliament

Friday 16th September 2016

“Her abuser exercised the ultimate control over her. Not only did he drag her to the family court for unsupervised access to her children, he went on to murder her children. In doing that, he has, with one awful, heartbreaking, criminal act, exercised control over Claire for the rest of her life. That should give us pause for thought. Never again will Claire’s life be the same, as her two boys have gone. We all feel her pain, and we have a duty to act” – Angela Smith MP

On 15 September 2016, the voices of women and children survivors of domestic abuse were heard in Parliament. In a milestone for the Child First campaign, the first full debate on the treatment of domestic abuse victims in the family law courts was held in the House of Commons.

Leading the debate, Claire Throssell’s MP Angela Smith told the story of Claire’s sons, Jack and Paul, in Parliament for the first time. 18 MPs from across all political parties spoke, united in pressing the Government to transform the family court system and ensure that perpetrators can no longer use family courts to continue abusing women and children.

The debate focused specifically on the findings of the Women’s Aid Nineteen Child Homicides report. MPs spoke about the urgent need to end the ‘contact at all costs’ culture in family courts, committed to put children’s safety first, and called on the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to urgently implement the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Domestic Violence recommendations for reform. These include separate waiting rooms for victims and the end to perpetrators cross-examining survivors of domestic abuse. As Peter Kyle MP said, “the trauma meted out by the family court process is simply inhuman.”

Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, said:

“The debate marks a huge step forward for Child First – and for our extraordinary spokeswoman, Claire Throssell. It was made abundantly clear by each MP who spoke, relaying stories of their own constituents who had been systematically abused through the family courts, that this an issue that must be dealt with urgently. We call on the Ministry of Justice to take heed and act quickly. There must be no more children traumatised or killed through unsafe contact arrangements. There must be no more abuse of women – who have already been through enough –  by manipulative perpetrators who play the system to continue their campaign of terror. Enough is enough.”

Claire Throssell, Child First spokeswoman, said:

“Finally, Jack and Paul have a voice. Their story is out there in Parliament. It was a momentous day. I will not stop campaigning until family courts in this country are transformed. Jack and Paul may be gone from our sight, but they are in the hearts and minds of so many people. Their legacy will be recorded forever and will help ensure that all children are loved and protected, and that all family courts keep children safe.”

The Minister for Victims and Family Justice, Dr Phillip Lee MP, stated that our report, “makes for harrowing reading. No child should ever die or live in such dreadful circumstances.” He also made commitments that Women’s Aid can hold the Government accountable to:

1) The Ministry of Justice will consider what additional protections are needed for vulnerable victims
2) The Ministry of Justice will work with Women’s Aid to review both the implementation of Practice Direction 12J and the training on domestic abuse provided to judges, court staff and Cafcass officials in domestic abuse

Women’s Aid worked alongside MPs to secure this debate, engaging over 3000 campaigners to write to their MP and ask them to attend. The Minister and MPs praised Claire’s bravery and courage in campaigning for change and attending the debate in person. As the MP for Rotherham, Sarah Champion MP said, “We will remember Jack and Paul.”

List of MPs who attended the debate
Angela Smith, MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge
Maria Miller, MP for Basingstoke
Sarah Champion, MP for Rotherham
Paul Scully, MP for Sutton and Cheam
Jess Phillips, MP for Birmingham, Yardley
Melanie Onn, MP for Great Grimsby
Peter Kyle, MP for Hove
Dr Eilidh Whiteford, MP for Banff and Buchan
Patricia Gibson, MP for North Ayrshire and Arran
Gill Furniss, MP for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough
Alison Thewliss, MP for Glasgow Central
Sir Keir Starmer, MP Holborn and St Pancras
Jim Shannon, MP for Strangford
Jim Cunningham, MP for Coventry South
Seema Malhotra, MP for Feltham and Heston
Madeline Moon, MP for Bridgend
Kerry McCarthy, MP for Bristol East
Gloria de Piero, MP for Ashfield
Richard Burgon MP – Shadow Justice Secretary
Dr Phillip Lee MP – Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Justice (Minister for Victims and Family Justice)
Heather Wheeler, MP for South Derbyshire
Tom Brake, MP for Carshalton and Wallington
Helen Hayes MP for Dulwich and West Norwood

Read the transcript of the debate here. For more information, please contact our press office.

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