The week has been dominated by three stories relating to domestic violence/abuse.
Firstly, campaigners have called for immediate action to protect domestic violence victims when they face their abuser in the family courts. The charity Women’s Aid says that there have been increasing reports of aggression at the court, and complains that protection afforded to people in the criminal court is not extended to the family court. Women’s Aid chief executive Polly Neate said: “Verbal and physical abuse from the perpetrator towards the victim is routinely occurring on the family court estate. This trauma makes it extremely difficult for the non-abusive parent to advocate clearly and effectively for the safety of their child.” This is a serious issue that has always concerned me. The best protection would be a security guard at the court (who could protect the judges and lawyers as well). The problem with this, of course, is that it costs money, and I can’t see that money being made available.
Money is, however, being made available by the government to tackle domestic violence. It has been announced that the government has set aside £80m over the next four years to improve the way local agencies tackle domestic violence. Home Secretary Theresa May says that the money will be used to boost services available to victims, including refuges and rape crisis centres, and also to create a fund designed to encourage new approaches to tackle domestic violence, support victims and prevent perpetrators from reoffending. As with all government initiatives, it all sounds so wonderful, and I hope it is. However, £80 million spread over four years to tackle such a huge issue doesn’t sound to me like an awful lot.
The third domestic violence story is that the European Commission has called for the European Union to ratify the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention, a comprehensive international treaty on combating violence against women and domestic violence. The Convention requires its parties to improve the protection of victims of violence and ensure prosecution of offenders in various ways, including criminalising violence against women, empowering the police to remove a perpetrator of domestic violence from their home, ensuring that shelters are accessible in sufficient numbers and providing free national helplines. Let us hope that the member states that have not yet ratified the Convention do so soon.
Moving on, the charity Centre for Justice Innovation has published a report in which it claims that Family Drug and Alcohol Courts (‘FDACs’) save taxpayers money. According to the Centre the savings primarily accrue from FDAC’s better outcomes: fewer children permanently removed from their families, fewer families returning to court and less substance misuse. The report claims that FDACs save the taxpayer £2.30 for every £1 spent. I am not qualified to comment upon the findings although, as I have said here, it is not surprising that a charity dedicated to building a justice system “which seeks to address the problems of those people who come into contact with it” is extremely enthusiastic about FDACs. I also note that at least one well respected legal commentator has suggested that the substance of the report may not be as impressive as the headline findings indicate.
And finally, figures published by Cafcass show that in February a total of 1,225 care applications were made, the highest ever figure recorded by the service. This represents an increase of 9.4 per cent, or 105 applications, on the previous record of 1,120 recorded in July 2015. February’s total also makes 2015/16 a record year for care applications. With March still to go, the total number of care applications for the first 11 months of 2015/16 now stands at 11,513. The previous high of 11,517 was recorded for the full 12-month period of 2014/15. There are various theories as to why the figures are so high, for example rising poverty and the influx of refugees, but perhaps the time has come for proper investigation as to what is behind the increase.
Have a good weekend.