House of Commons debates domestic violence victims in family courts
On 15 September 2016, the House of Commons held a debate on domestic abuse victims in Family Law Courts. The debate was prompted following a report by Women’s Aid in January 2016 which highlighted the death of 19 children killed by perpetrators of domestic violence as a result of unsafe child contact arrangements. The report recommended that:
- Further avoidable child deaths must be prevented by putting children first in the family courts;
- There is an urgent need for independent, national oversight into the implementation of a Practice Direction entitled “Child Arrangements and Contact Order: Domestic Violence and Harm” which is a guide for Judges and family law practitioners to follow.
The House of Commons debate highlighted the disparity between how victims of domestic abuse are treated in the criminal court as opposed to the family court. Special measures and support are put in place in the criminal courts to assist victims of domestic abuse but these protections and measures are often missing in many family law courts.
It is reported that a debate took place about the court having the ability to strike out a case where it could be seen that the application by the perpetrator of domestic violence was vexatious and was simply issued to cause difficulties for the victim and ensure that he/she had to attend court which is exactly what the perpetrator may want. There are cases where this strike out maybe be possible but if there is a child, it would be difficult to argue that the litigation is vexatious when the perpetrator has an interest. In those circumstances, there needs to be better support for the victims and special measures put in place. It was highlighted that the judiciary in the criminal courts have taken a much more active role in criminal law proceedings to provide a better environment for the victims. It is hoped that this can occur in the family courts.
It has been reported that the president of the family division has asked a High Court judge to review the practice direction in light of the recommendations by Women’s Aid and the all-party parliamentary group on domestic violence.
Maguire Family Law provides clear advice and support to the victims of domestic violence both in respect of protective orders that can be obtained and also ensuring that if you are faced with an application by the perpetrator of domestic violence, for example, in respect of your child, the investigation, support and measures that should be available during the family court process are.