Women’s Aid and Claire Throssell call for House of Lords to make key change to domestic abuse bill
Children must come first in the family court
22 October 2020: It is six years today since Jack, aged 12, and Paul, aged nine, were killed by their father after he was granted unsupervised contact with them by the family court.
Today, the national domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid has called for changes to the domestic abuse bill to prevent such avoidable tragedies happening again.Sign our petition to the Secretary of State for Justice
As Jack and Paul’s mother Claire Throssell has said, “No parent should have to hold their children and comfort them as they die, or be told that their child has been harmed in an act of revenge or rage.”
Women’s Aid data shows there is a huge need for support for survivors around child contact and family law
- Almost half of (45.2%, 3,444 out of 7,628) survivors with children had support needs around child contact
- One in five survivors (20.5%, 2539 out of 12,382) needed support around family law.
In a major Ministry of Justice review of the family courts, its expert panel concluded that there are ‘systemic’ issues in how the courts respond to domestic abuse and keep children safe. The panel stated that the courts have a ‘pro-contact’ culture – which is an ingrained commitment to maintaining contact between a child and both parents.
The panel found that ‘pro-contact’ also leads to a culture of minimising allegations of domestic abuse – a ‘culture of disbelief’.
To ensure there are no further avoidable child deaths as a result of unsafe child contact with a perpetrator of domestic abuse, Women’s Aid is calling for changes to the ‘pro-contact’ culture.
An amendment proposed by Women’s Aid, Welsh Women’s Aid and Rights of Women would change the legal presumption of parental involvement in the Children Act 1989 in cases where children are at risk of harm from domestic abuse to make clear that contact arrangements in domestic abuse cases based on informed judgement of a child’s best interests and safety.
Women’s Aid is calling for the House of Lords to make this key change to the domestic abuse bill to ensure children are put first in the family courts.
Nicki Norman, acting chief executive for Women’s Aid, says
“Since our campaign and first petition were launched in 2016, we have seen real changes in the family court response to domestic abuse. These include new guidance for judges in making decisions about child contact in domestic abuse cases, a commitment to ban on abusers cross-examining victims in the family courts, and a major Ministry of Justice review of the family courts led by an expert panel.
I was proud to sit on this panel, which has already led to key changes to stop abusers continuing harm in the courts – including a guarantee that survivors can access ‘special measures’, such as screens, separate entrances and exits, and separate waiting areas.
But I know women and children going through the family courts continue to experience harm. Survivors continue to tell us that their abusers use the family courts as a weapon of coercive control, and that unsafe decisions impact their children’s safety and welfare. Since we launched this petition, we know at least two further children have been killed by an abusive parent in circumstances related to unsafe child contact since we launched our petition in 2016.
We cannot wait any longer. We must change the presumption of parental involvement in domestic abuse cases – for good.”
Jack and Paul’s mother, Claire Throssell, says
“My son Jack’s dying words were, “My dad did this and he did it on purpose.” Throughout the whole humiliating and barbaric family court experience we had endured, and despite Cafcass and social services’ involvement, Jack’s voice had never been heard. His dying testimony was the only time his voice was heard.
There is a deadly culture within the family court system of ‘parental rights’ and ‘parental alienation’. This leads to child contact with the abusive parent before vital reports and recommendations have been carried out. Too often, unsafe rulings are made in a hostile and intimidating room where children like Jack and Paul’s voices are lost, their wishes unheard and feelings ignored. Tragically, these children are merely letters on serious case reviews, but their lives, however short, must be recognised and remembered for who they were – children let down and harmed by government bodies, which did not do enough to protect them.
Together, Women’s Aid and myself urge everyone to sign the Child First Petition to give children a voice and keep them at the heart of any judgement made within the family courts. Your signature can make a difference and help keep children safe.”