Last Thursday I mentioned here the protest in Westminster on Saturday by the group “The Court Said”, which is demanding changes to the Domestic Abuse Bill, to protect domestic abuse survivors in the family court. As I explained in my post, the campaigners feel that the balance between protecting abuse victims and promoting contact is dangerously skewed in favour of the latter, leaving the domestic abuse survivors at risk of further abuse.
As I write this I have not seen any report of the protest, other than a tweet by freelance journalist and regular writer on family law Louise Tickle. The tweet includes three photographs of protesters holding placards and banners outside the Houses of Parliament.
The photographs only show a handful of people. Whether this was the entire turnout, I can’t say. What I wanted to discuss here, however, was the contents of some of those placards and banners.
“A child will only ever disclose what they are subjected to!”
I take this as a ‘suggestion’ that the courts should listen to what the child says. Of course, the court does listen, but to suggest that children always tell the truth is surely naïve at best, plain wrong at worst. Children often say what they think the adults around them want them to say, or even makeup what they say.
“The family court has blood on its hands.”
Obviously, the court makes mistakes, and people can suffer as a result of those mistakes. However, protecting a victim of abuse and promoting the welfare of a child can be an extremely difficult balancing act. I’m not of course saying that we should be complacent. Of course, we shouldn’t. We should always strive to make better decisions and to learn from mistakes. But to use such emotive language as this is really not helping anyone.
“They are gagging to prevent scrutiny (literally).”
No. That is not the reason why family courts are private. I doubt that any judge or magistrate has ever thought: “We must keep this secret, to stop those pesky newspapers reporting it.” Privacy in children proceedings is there simply to protect the children. There is no cover-up.
“Abusive partners are abusive parents.”
Well, that may often be so but, strange as it might seem, it is not always so. To have a blanket denial of contact between abusive parents and their children would surely fly in the face of the welfare principle, i.e. that the court should be guided by what is best for the child’s welfare.
“Everyone should report abuse, even lawyers.”
I’m not sure whether this suggestion has been properly thought through. It raises many questions. How does one enforce a duty to report? Is it a criminal matter? What level of abuse should trigger the duty? And when it comes to lawyers, what about client confidentiality? It is all too easy to suggest a change that superficially looks like a solution, but it’s rarely that simple.
“Frightened children are not alienated children.”
Agreed. I can see that this is an error that a court might make. But again it can be extremely difficult to get to the truth.
“Contact at any cost.”
I understand why a domestic abuse survivor may feel this way, but I really don’t think that any family judge or magistrate would proceed on this basis, particularly in the light of recent initiatives aimed at dealing with the problem of domestic abuse, such as Practice Direction 12J, which I wrote about here back in October 2017. Certainly, if they did, then they would be wrong, and their decision open to appeal.
“Stop shared care in domestic abuse cases.”
See “Abusive partners are abusive parents”, above. Similar arguments apply, although shared care in a case where there has been a finding of abuse is obviously less likely than just contact.
“If it was that bad why didn’t you leave?”
Something else we can agree upon. I have never heard a judge say this, but if they did then it would almost certainly be completely unacceptable. I say “almost certainly”, as the context could be relevant, for example it might be acceptable if the judge had good reason to believe that the ‘victim’ was exaggerating allegations of domestic abuse.
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