“The family courts are robbing survivors of their children”: Child First goes to Parliament

“The family courts are robbing survivors of their children”: Child First goes to Parliament

13th September 2016

Women’s Aid has secured a historic debate in Parliament for its Child First campaign, on the failure of family courts to protect children and survivors of domestic abuse.

The debate, on Thursday 15th September at 11:30am in the House of Commons, will be led by Angela Smith, the local MP of the Child First spokeswoman Claire Throssell. Claire’s two sons, Jack  and Paul, were murdered by their father – a known perpetrator of domestic abuse – in October 2014.

Despite Claire’s repeated warnings to the family courts and all agencies involved with the case that he presented a danger to the boys, the family courts granted her ex-husband unsafe, unsupervised contact with the boys. This gave him the opportunity to kill them; Jack and Paul were 12 and 9 at the time. Claire will be attending the debate to hear her story told in Parliament for the very first time.

MPs speaking at the debate include Jess Phillips, Sir Keir Starmer, Maria Miller, and Paul Scully, the MP of Ellie Butler. Ellie was murdered by her father Ben Butler after the family courts took the decision to remove Ellie from the care of her grandparents, and returned her to her abusive parents.

The debate will focus on three core issues:

1) Putting children’s safety back at the heart of all decisions made by family courts by implementing the legal framework that exists to protect them (Practice Direction 12J), and giving it the vocal backing of Government and senior judges. Failure to do this has led to 19 children in 10 years being killed by a parent who had previously committed domestic abuse.
2) An end to cross-examination of a survivor by their abuser in family courts. Survivors cannot advocate for their children’s safety effectively if being intimidated by their abuser. 1 in 4 survivors of domestic abuse surveyed by Women’s Aid were cross-examined by their abuser in the family court.
3) Protection measures, such as separate waiting areas, currently available in criminal courts, must also be made available in family courts. Women’s Aid research found that 55% of survivors of domestic abuse had no access to protection measures in family courts. Only 32% of survivors of domestic abuse had access to a separate waiting room in the family court to keep them safe from their abuser.

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

“This debate is a crucial opportunity to urge the Government to ensure that there are no further avoidable child deaths as a result of unsafe child contact, to put children’s safety back at the heart of all family court decisions, and to make the family courts safer for all survivors of domestic abuse.

“We launched Child First alongside the report Nineteen Child Homicides, which uncovered the cases of 19 children from 12 families killed by their fathers – who were all known to several statutory agencies as perpetrators of domestic abuse – in circumstances relating to unsafe child contact. One child death is one too many – and all of the deaths of these 19 children were avoidable. The culture of ‘contact at all costs’ must end. The safety and wellbeing of the child must be paramount – not the desire of an abusive parent for contact. We hope this debate prompts the Government into urgent action.”

Claire Throssell, Child First spokeswoman, said:

 
“I will hold my head up high as I listen to my story in Parliament. The family courts are failing survivors of domestic abuse and robbing them of their children. It is too late for Jack and Paul – but it is not too late for other children. We must protect children from abusive parents. Jack and Paul’s father was a known abuser. One official involved in the case refused to assess him alone, because she didn’t feel safe doing so. Why, then, was he allowed unsupervised, unsafe contact with my boys? Even though we’d separated, the abuse hadn’t ended. This was not taken on board by the family courts. He wanted to take everything from me, and he did. The boys’ right to safety – to life – should have outweighed their father’s desire for contact.”

Angela Smith MP said:

“When I met with my constituent Claire Throssell and she told me her devastating story, I knew the family court system needed radical change. I am honoured to represent Claire, and her sons Jack and Paul, in this debate. It will be well-attended by MPs, which demonstrates just how important the issues raised are, and how they are affecting survivors of domestic abuse and their children all over the country. It is imperative that the Secretary of State for Justice responds without delay, and that a review of guidance and procedures within the family courts is implemented swiftly. We are failing vulnerable women and children all over the country – and in the very worst cases, children like Jack and Paul are being killed. This must end now.”

 

For more information, please contact our press office.

© 2015 Women's Aid Federation of England – Women’s Aid is a company limited by guarantee registered in England No: 3171880.

Women’s Aid is a registered charity in England No. 1054154

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