APPG 2016 Report: Domestic Abuse, Child Contact and the Family Courts

APPG 2016 reportIn April 2016, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Domestic Violence launched its report highlighting the urgent need for an end to cross-examination of survivors of domestic abuse by their abuser in the family court.

The report is the result of a Parliamentary Hearing in January about the treatment of cases involving domestic abuse in the family courts. The APPG launched the inquiry after becoming increasingly concerned about the safety of women and child survivors of domestic abuse within the family courts.

The report concluded the APPG’s Inquiry into domestic and sexual violence service provision, which received both written and oral evidence from over 60 organisations and more than 100 survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

Key issues highlighted

The Government, family court judiciary and related statutory agencies take domestic abuse seriously and are committed to working towards protecting children in these families. However, this Hearing has highlighted key areas of concern relating to the experiences of survivors of domestic abuse in the family courts, and these will be explored in more detail in the briefing:

  • A need to ensure safe child contact, not contact ‘at any cost’.
  • Access to Legal Aid and Litigants in Person.
  • A lack of access to special measures in family courts.
  • Implementing Practice Direction 12J – Child Arrangements and Contact Orders: Domestic Violence and Harm.
  • Understanding the impact of domestic abuse on children.
  • Specialist domestic violence training throughout the family court judiciary.
  • The role of child contact centres in supervised and non-supervised contact.
  • A presumption that the father is competent to provide safe and appropriate care and parenting despite their abusive behaviour and assessing the risk a perpetrator of domestic abuse poses to their child.

Recommendations and calls for action

  1.  The Ministry of Justice, and the President of the Family Division must clarify that there must not be an assumption of shared parenting in child contact cases where domestic abuse is a feature, and child contact should be decided based on an informed judgement of what’s in the best interests of child.
  2. The Government must put an immediate end to survivors of domestic abuse being cross-examined by, or having to cross-examine, their abusers in the family court.
  3. The Ministry of Justice must urgently set up an independent, national oversight group overseeing and advising upon the implementation of Practice Direction 12J – Child Arrangements and Contact Order: Domestic Violence and Harm.
  4. The Ministry of Justice and President of Family Division must ensure that special measures, such as dedicated safe waiting rooms for vulnerable witnesses and separate entrance and exit times, are available throughout family court proceedings and any subsequent child contact, to ensure the safety and well-being of both vulnerable women and children.
  5. The Ministry of Justice, President of the Family Division and Cafcass must ensure Judges and court staff in the family court, Cafcass officers and other frontline staff in other related agencies receive specialist face to face training on all aspects of domestic violence, particularly coercive and controlling behaviour, the frequency and nature of post-separation abuse, and the impact of domestic abuse on children, on parenting and on the mother-child relationship.
  6. The Ministry of Justice, President of the Family Division and Cafcass must ensure expert safety and risk assessments in child contact cases are carried out where there is an abusive parent involved and they must be conducted by a dedicated domestic abuse practitioner who works for an agency accredited to nationally recognised standards for responding to domestic abuse.
  7. The President of the Family Division must ensure family court judges never order child contact in support contact centres where a risk assessment has found that the abusive parent still poses a risk to the child or non-abusive parent.

Published on the 20th April 2016

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