Westminster has been a hive of protest recently. Whether another protest, due this Saturday, will be noticed amongst all the others, I don’t know. Still, that isn’t deterring a group of domestic abuse survivors, who are campaigning to change the way domestic abuse is treated in the family court.
The Court Said
Specifically, the protest, which calls itself “The Court Said” and goes under the eponymous hashtag #thecourtsaid, is “to demand changes to the Domestic Abuse Bill to protect Domestic Abuse Survivors in family court.” As I explained here recently, the Bill, which will introduce a comprehensive package of measures to tackle domestic abuse, has been carried over from the last session of Parliament. It has been referred to a Public Bill Committee, which is due to report by the 21st of November. You can find a draft of the Bill, as introduced, here.
So what changes to the Bill is the campaign seeking? Well, I scoured the campaign’s Facebook page (link below), and I confess I was none the wiser. But that is probably due to my complete bafflement with the Facebook platform, with which I have never been able to get on. I am sure the answer is there somewhere.
Anyhow, I found a little more information in a post on the Researching Reform blog. That informs me that the campaign was launched in June by ‘Natalie’, a survivor herself of domestic abuse. The post says:
“Concerns around the way victims of domestic abuse are treated by the family courts stem from survivors’ inability to discuss their cases with anyone other than their legal representatives, documented bias towards vulnerable parents alleging abuse by a spouse or partner and limited rights to protect their children from abuse.”
Natalie is quoted as saying:
“The campaign brings together survivors, activists, organisations and allies together in condemnation and protest of the family court. The family court routinely puts survivor families in harm’s way through what is effectively a presumption of contact even in cases of domestic abuse, rape and cases with a high risk of homicide.
“Children have been harmed in their thousands and in some cases even murdered as a result. Perpetrators of domestic abuse are 62% more likely to harm their children … and this risk is not assessed and wilfully ignored by the court and associated agencies, leaving survivor families in an inescapable domestic abuse dynamic, as the behaviour persists beyond the physical separation.
“#thecourtsaid was born out of my desire to no longer see another domestic abuse survivor facing the barriers to justice and safety that currently exist.”
OK, I realise that that still does not explain precisely what changes to the Bill are sought by the campaign, but at least we have a clearer picture. The campaigners clearly feel that the balance between protecting abuse victims and promoting contact is dangerously skewed in favour of the latter.
A difficult balance
This is, of course, nothing new. I have come across such arguments on many occasions since I have been writing about family law. I have also, of course, come across the contrary argument on a similar number of occasions: that the courts are too willing to believe allegations of abuse put forward by parents who seek to deny the other parent contact with their child.
It is an extremely difficult balance to achieve, and no doubt the courts get it wrong, in both directions, on many occasions. But I do not believe that there is systemic bias, one way or the other. Apart from ensuring that judges and magistrates are properly trained, I’m not sure what the answer is. I certainly do not, for example, agree that a finding of domestic abuse should automatically mean that there should be no contact between the abusive parent and the child – the issue should always be determined by reference to what is best for the welfare of the child.
Whatever, if you are interested in attending the protest, which will take place this Saturday at 12 noon in Parliament Square, see the Campaign For Survivor Family Justice Facebook page, here.
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If you would like any advice on leaving a relationship with domestic abuse, you can find further articles here or please do contact our Client Care Team to speak to one of our specialist domestic abuse lawyers here.