DABill Lords – presumption of contact

Domestic Abuse Bill, Committee stage House of Lords

Presumption of contact:

Lord Rosser, Baroness Gardner & Baroness Jones amendment – New Clause after Clause 64 (see exact wording below)

We SUPPORT an amendment to the presumption of contact but IT DOES NOT GO FAR ENOUGH:

2 (2D) says that the evidence of domestic abuse to be provided should be according to regulation 33 (2) of the Civil Legal Aid (procedure) Regulations 2012.  These regulations are over eight years old and have been significantly updated by the government, most recently in 2018.  The crucial issue is the range of agencies/professionals who can provide evidence of domestic abuse, and the time which is considered relevant (now increased from two to five years). 

Since it is known that only a small percentage of domestic abuse victims report the violence they are suffering to any official body or even to their GP or health professional, it is very important to include that evidence can be provided by a domestic violence support service, as the current legal aid domestic abuse guidelines specify here.  

(4) (8) would prohibit unsupervised contact only if the (parent) had been charged with a domestic abuse offence or was involved in ongoing criminal proceedings for a domestic abuse offence. 

This is much too limited, especially given that most domestic abuse is unreported and, when reported, rarely leads to conviction. We think the same legal aid guidelines (as outlined above) should apply to ban unsupervised contact

The Harm Review echoes our concerns, and calls for an end to the presumption of contact, as it is used by abusive fathers to insist on unsupervised access and even residence of their children.

The issue of unsupervised contact is crucial as it is contact that enables abusers to continue their reign of terror over women and children.  Violent men are usually furious that the woman they abused and controlled has been able to escape them and use the children to pursue and terrorise her.  Men who behave in this way are not interested in their children, except as a weapon against their former partner.  It is not in the interest of the children to have contact with a father who abuses them or their mother.  Such contact is terrifying and potentially lethal.  It also teaches children that men’s violence is normal and acceptable since they are being forced to endure it, and that women count for little since their mother’s warnings are dismissed and ignored by the authorities. 

The father who murdered Claire Throssell’s two sons by setting fire to an attic he had lured them into was able to do so because he had unsupervised contact.  Virtually all the children in the Women’s Aid 19 Child Homicides were murdered in the course of unsupervised contact (in one or two cases the child/ren actually lived with their father).  The same Women’s Aid report notes that “One study of 203 child contact orders found that there was only one order prohibiting any contact, and only 3% of contact orders were for supervised visiting.” 

If there is to be contact, there should be a presumption of supervised contact, especially when court proceedings are just beginning and findings on domestic abuse have not been made.  In our experience, abusive fathers who are allowed only supervised contact (even if only for an initial period) soon lose interest in seeing their children, confirming mothers’ experience that they were using contact with the children to get back at the women who had left them.  In many cases fathers used unsupervised contact to refuse to return children to their mother.  This uncaring and selfish behaviour is extremely damaging to children.  Their safety and the safety of their primary carer, in 90% of cases the mother, must come first.

Insert the following new Clause—
“Proceedings under the Children Act 1989
(1) Part I of the Children Act 1989 is amended as follows.
(2) In section 1 (welfare of the child) after subsection (2B) insert—

“(2C) Subsection (2A) shall not apply in relation to a parent where there has
been domestic abuse which has affected the child or other parent.
(2D) Evidence of domestic abuse may be provided in one or more of the
forms set out in regulation 33(2) of the Civil Legal Aid (Procedure)
Regulations 2012.”

(3) Part II of the Children Act 1989 is amended as follows.
(4) In section 9 (restrictions on making section 8 orders) after subsection (7)
“(8) No court shall make a section 8 order for a child to spend unsupervised
time with or have unsupervised contact with a parent who is—
(a) awaiting trial, or on bail for, a domestic abuse offence, or
(b) involved in ongoing criminal proceedings for a domestic abuse

(8A) In subsection (8)—
“unsupervised” means where a court approved third party is not
present at all times during contact with the parent to ensure the
physical safety and emotional wellbeing of a child;
“domestic abuse offence” means an offence which the Crown
Prosecution Service alleges to have involved domestic abuse.””

Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause seeks to change the presumption that parental involvement furthers the
child’s welfare when there has been domestic abuse. It also prohibits unsupervised contact for a
parent awaiting trial or on bail for domestic abuse offences, or where there are ongoing
criminal proceedings for domestic abuse.