Today, Tuesday 21st May 2019, the government has announced that a panel of experts will review how the family courts protect children and parents in cases of domestic abuse and other serious offences, in a significant win for the Women’s Aid Child First campaign.
The three-month project aims to ensure that the family court works first and foremost in the explicit interests of the child, such as their safety, health and well-being. The Ministry of Justice-chaired panel will consist of a range of experts including senior members of the judiciary, leading academics and charities.
Nicki Norman, acting co-Chief Executive of Women’s Aid said:
“We warmly welcome the launch of this review and the government’s recognition of the serious problems with the response to domestic abuse within our family justice system. We launched our Child First: Safe Child Contact Saves Lives campaign in 2016 as survivors of domestic abuse told us that the safety of child contact arrangements and the family courts were their greatest concern .
Since 2016 we have seen progress, with updated guidance for judges making decisions in these cases and a government commitment to banning cross-examination of victims of domestic abuse in the family courts. However, we know from speaking to survivors that far too often the courts still take a ‘contact at all costs’ approach to decisions on child contact when there is a history of domestic abuse. This neglects the safety needs of survivors and their children, ignores the impact of domestic abuse on them and can even expose them to further abuse and harm.
Recent research by Women’s Aid and the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme has shown that unsafe child contact can have life-threatening consequences. We now know that 21 children have been intentionally killed by a parent with a known history of domestic abuse in circumstances relating to child contact – either formally or informally arranged – between 2005 and 2019. Change is needed now.
Women’s Aid has been calling for an independent inquiry for the past year, and we have been proud to campaign/advocate for this, alongside Louise Haigh MP, and Sammy Woodhouse. It is essential that the review is truly independent and brings together a range of experts in domestic abuse with the judiciary and others in the family court system. Most importantly, the voices and experiences of survivors and their children – such as Claire Throssell, our courageous Child First spokeswoman – must be central to this process to make it meaningful and help save lives. We look forward to assisting the government with this vital review.”