Have your say: how victims of domestic violence are treated in the family courts

Review by the Ministry of Justice: Assessing risk of harm to children and parents in private law family cases DEADLINE 26 August 2019

It is scandalous that this deadline falls at the end of the long school holidays, giving little time for mums and others who are busy with their kids over the break to write in.  It shows that our experiences are not their priority but let’s make sure we tell them what we want them to know anyway!  

SOME USEFUL INFORMATION

The review is only about ‘private’ family law, that is when parents are in dispute about contact and/or residence of their child/ren.  When the local authority have taken or are trying to take your child/ren that is called’ public’ family law so the Questionnaire does not apply to that.  But if your case started with a dispute with your child’s father and later the LA got involved, you can still give evidence.   

This review came about after 120 MPs wrote to the government shocked at how victims of domestic violence are treated in the family courts , and a very good  investigation by Victoria Derbyshire, including interviewing Clare Throssell whose violent ex-husband killed their two sons during an unsupervised contact visit. 

We have complained that the Review Panel is mainly judges, lawyers and academics, that it should not include the chief social worker, Isabelle Trowler who promotes privatisation of children services, and that its remit is narrower than it should be (see here). We have received no reply. But we still think it’s an important opportunity for mums to speak out strongly about the violence they (and often their children) have suffered and how it has been ignored / downplayed / dismissed by family court judges, by CAFCASS and other professionals.

HOW TO FILL IN THE QUESTIONNAIRE

·      See here for the Questionnaire which individuals and organisations can fill in online.  You can save as you go so you don’t have to finish in one sitting.  You can also print the pdf so that you can read it and think about how you want to answer the questions.   

·      At the end of the Questionnaire you will be given the option to put in your email address and a pdf of your evidence will automatically be sent to you.  If you don’t want to give your email address, you can use ours and let us know so we can send your evidence to you.  Please send us a copy of your evidence anyway so we have a record of who is giving evidence and what the government has been told so they can’t deny it later on.  With your permission, we will also use the information anonymously to build a truthful picture of what mothers are facing.

·      You do not have to give your name or other details unless you want to. 

·      You don’t have to answer all the questions unless you want to.

·      You are welcome to be in touch with us if there are questions that you don’t understand. 

We are hoping that the Review will hear oral evidence from mums/carers affected and we have asked the Panel to consider taking referrals from us of women who are ready to speak to them.  We don’t know if they will do that but please let us know if you would be prepared to give oral evidence. 

SOME USEFUL TIPS ON THE QUESTIONS:

·      Q5 on fact-finding hearing:
it doesn’t ask what problems come up in those hearings.  But we know that mums often struggle to prove the violence they have suffered, and judges are much more ready to dismiss issues about violence and/or coercive and controlling behaviour than they would be in the criminal court.  Take this opportunity to say if you thought the fact-finding was fair and unbiased, and if not how. 

·      Qs7 & 8 on the impact of Practice Direction 12J
If you don’t know what this is you should say that!  If your lawyer / the judge / anyone else never mentioned it, say that!  It is an indictment of how misrepresented mums are.

·      Q9 on the presumption in law that it is always in a child’s best interest to have contact with both parents. 
This is particularly important because it very often leads to the court prioritising a violent father’s contact with his children over the danger and trauma this can cause the children and/or their mother.  We know that mothers who object to violent fathers having unsupervised (or sometimes any) contact with the father are often accused of “parental alienation” or of “emotional abuse” of their children – as if trying to protect them and yourself from harm is a crime! 

The same applies if the children have disclosed sexual or other abuse by their father – their voices are often not listened to and rather than investigate their complaints, the courts blame mothers for “coaching” them.  
MAKE SURE YOU SPELL OUT WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT ANY DANGERS AND TRAUMA RESULTING FROM GIVING VIOLENT FATHERS THESE RIGHTS.

·      Q 17 on s.91 (14) order:
This is a court order which bans a parent from making applications to court for a particular period – e.g. for one year, or two years . . . If a judge has made such an order you would have to go back to court to ask permission to make an application for contact or any other change you want.  It is often draconian and terribly unjust.

·      Qs 21-23 on the harm caused to your children and to you by being forced into contact with an abusive ex-partner.  
THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT.  MAKE SURE YOU SPELL OUT ANY DANGER OR TRAUMA YOU AND YOUR CHILDREN SUFFERED AS A RESULT OF CAFCASS OR THE COURT INSISTING ON THE FATHER HAVING CONTACT.