The Family Courts are failing to adequately protect the partners and children of domestic abusers, a charity has claimed.
Women’s Aid has published a report which focuses on the stories of 19 children killed by a parent in 12 families. In each case, the guilty parent had contact arrangements in place which allowed them to spend time with their children despite a history of domestic abuse. In seven out of the 12 cases, these arrangements were put in place by the courts, the report claims.
In addition to the deaths of 19 children, the report reveals that two mothers were killed in these incidents and two children were seriously injured through attempted murders.
Polly Neate, the charity’s Chief Executive, said these incidents were the result of “a misguided belief within the family courts and among judges that, because a relationship has ended, so has the domestic abuse”. This is not always the case, as she claimed Women’s Aid receives frequent calls from victims who continue to be abused “even after separation, through the family court process”.
She said that in the criminal courts there are protection measures in place to keep victims safe from further abuse. By contrast, she added, there is no equivalent in the family court despite the fact that “domestic abuse features in around 70 per cent of CAFCASS caseloads, and in 70-90 per cent of cases going to the family courts”.
Women’s Aid recommended two steps the Family Court could take to fix the “failing” system. Firstly, an even greater emphasis on putting a child’s interests first in family law proceedings. As part of this outlook, the courts should also “protect the well-being of the parent the child is living with”.
The second proposed step was the introduction of protection measures for victims of domestic abuse. For example, when a victim is in court, they “should always have access to a separate waiting room or area”. Another suggested measure was that family judges “must ensure there is time for the non-abusive parent to leave court safely before releasing the perpetrator”.
The report was published alongside the launch of Child First, a campaign to implement the suggested changes. Family law blogger and Marilyn Stowe Blog columnist John Bolch said that after “over 20 years of experience [as a family lawyer], and having seen all too many such tragedies reported, I wholeheartedly support this campaign”.
For more information on Child First, click here.