Landmark win for Women’s Aid’s Child First campaign with changes announced to make child contact safer

Friday 15th September 2017

Following Women’s Aid’s Child First campaign, changes to the guidance given to judges in child contact cases when there is an allegation of domestic abuse, have been announced by Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division, which will help ensure that children are no longer at risk.

As our Child First campaign and Nineteen Child Homicides report have made painfully clear, the family courts are not always getting child contact decisions right in cases of domestic abuse, which is putting the wellbeing and safety of children at risk and in some cases, as our report highlighted, has resulted in tragic outcomes.

The new guidance recommends that where a risk assessment flags ongoing risk to the child there will be no contact ordered, even at a contact centre, and that courts should provide special protection measures to guarantee the safety of both survivors of domestic abuse and their children in court. While the new guidance will hold judges more accountable by requiring them to follow the guidance and also explain why any contact that they order will not expose the child to further harm and how it is in child’s best interest.

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

“For far too long children have been put at risk as a result of poor decisions made by judges in child contact cases. In some cases, perpetrators of domestic abuse were even given the opportunity to take away innocent lives. We have fought hard, with the unfaltering support of our inspiring survivor ambassadors including Claire Throssell, to see vital life-saving changes to the way family courts operate and we are pleased to see that following our Child First campaign judges are now required to follow Practice Direction 12J, the guidance for judges in child contact cases when there is an allegation of domestic abuse, and will be held more accountable when it comes to making child contact decisions.

“We want to thank the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, Mr Justice Cobb, the Family Judiciary and the Ministry of Justice for taking this decisive action following our campaign. We are pleased that they have taken on board some of the recommendations Women’s Aid made alongside our expert advisory group to bring about much-needed changes to the way the family courts handle these cases.

“We want to see children’s safety at the heart of all decisions made by the family courts and this cannot be done without a thorough understanding of domestic abuse, including coercive control, and the devastating impact it has on children. We call for judges and magistrates to be provided with compulsory training to make sure that they follow the guidance properly and get child contact decisions right every time.”

We call on the Family Judiciary and Ministry of Justice to ensure that all judges and magistrates are aware of the revised guidance and their responsibility to follow it. This needs to be supplemented with a thorough understanding of domestic abuse and its impact on children so that judges can manage these complex cases effectively and safely. We, therefore, also call on the Judicial College to ensure that all judges and magistrates are given compulsory training on domestic abuse, including coercive control, and its impact on children so that they can identify, understand and appropriately respond when there is an allegation of domestic abuse in child contact cases.

For more information, please contact the Women’s Aid Press Office: press@womensaid.org.uk

Notes to editors:
1) Read the announcement of the revisions by Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division, online here: https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/publications/president-of-family-division-circular-practice-direction-pd12j-domestic-abuse/ (accessed 14th September 2017)
2) Read the revised Practice Direction 12J guidance online here: https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/presidents-circular-domestic-abuse-pd12j-substituted-pd-20170914.pdf (accessed 14th September 2017)
3) Read more about Women’s Aid’s Child First campaign, which calls for the family court process to be made safer for women and children survivors of domestic abuse online here: https://www.womensaid.org.uk/childfirst/

 

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