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Women and children to be protected in family court reforms

Author: Gail Harris

In an effort to protect mothers and their children, where there is evidence of domestic abuse, there will no longer be a presumption that the father must have contact with his children.

The change comes in response to the death of 19 children at the hands of their violent fathers, over the past 10 years.

In announcing the reforms, Mr Justice Cobb said: “It is indeed most disturbing to note that for at least 12 of the 19 children killed contact with the father was arranged through the family courts.

“For six families, this contact was arranged in family court hearings and for one family contact was decided as part of the arrangements for a non-molestation order and occupation order.”

Senior judges, led by Mr Justice Cobb said there must also be an end to the practice of allowing the cross-examination of domestic abuse victims. Cross examination by the perpetrator is banned in the criminal courts, yet has been allowed to continue in the family courts – a practice Justice Cobb described as a “deeply unsatisfactory situation”.

The judges called for a raft of changes, including more training on domestic violence so that women and children are better protected. Justice Cobb pointed out that under the current system, violent men could actually use the court system to continue their abuse. He also recommended that courts carefully considered arrangements for victims who were waiting to go into the court room.

President of the Family Division, Sir James Mumby, endorsed the reforms. He said that the Royal Courts of Justice in London had no safe waiting room and no video link, blaming the lack of facilities on austerity measures. He commented: “The problem is, of course one of resources ..…. much more needs to be done to bring the family courts up to an acceptable standard, indeed to match the facilities and ‘kit’ available in the Crown Court”.

Polly Neate, director of Women’s Aid, commented in an interview with the Guardian Newspaper, “There should never be a presumption of contact where one parent is known to be a perpetrator of domestic abuse.”

Women’s Aid will today present their updated report to the Prime Minister, Theresa May on children that have been murdered by their violent fathers after courts gave them access to the children.

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