Women’s Aid responds to the Harm Panel progress report
Lucy Hadley, head of policy at Women’s Aid, said:
“Almost three years on from the Harm Panel report, we have not seen evidence of ‘cultural changes’ to improve safety for women and children experiencing abuse. This was a landmark report and we had high hopes for the change which was promised – but we continue to hear day in, day out from survivors that they are still experiencing disbelief, danger and trauma within the family courts.
“We recognise that some positive actions have been taken. The expansion of legal aid announced today is welcome and is something Women’s Aid has long been campaigning for. However, it fails to deliver the Harm Panel’s recommendation of providing legal aid to all parties in cases featuring domestic abuse, in the best interests of the child.
“Many of the recommendations updated on in this progress report were brought in through the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. Whilst the ban on cross-examination of survivors by perpetrators and introduction of special measures and barring orders are critical, they are not new and we are concerned that they are not being implemented effectively on the ground. We remain unclear what ‘compulsory’ training on domestic abuse for judges includes, and in our experience women who allege domestic abuse continue to face discrimination and victim-blaming attitudes when trying to secure safe child contact arrangements for their children.
“In some areas, progress is even being reversed. At the same time as publishing this report, the government is consulting on dangerous proposals to make mediation ‘compulsory’ in the family courts. If this goes ahead, it will have severe consequences for survivors of domestic abuse, who need the protection that the courts provide.
“We urge the government, judiciary and family court professionals to work together with specialist domestic abuse organisations and survivors to deliver the system wide reform which is still so desperately needed to ensure children are put first in the family courts.”