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Commissioner calls for reforms to ensure safety of children in Family Courts

Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, raises concerns that children, victims and survivors are being retraumatised by the Family Court.

21/07/23

Commissioner calls for reforms to ensure safety of children in Family Courts

The Domestic Abuse Commissioner is calling for ‘wholesale change’ in the Family Courts after a new report highlighted ongoing concerns about the traumatising experience of the process for victims and survivors of domestic abuse.

The Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, said many people going through the Court are fearful that their best interests aren’t being considered as she regularly hears from victims and survivors about how allegations of domestic abuse are minimised during proceedings, which are often very lengthy and costly, placing their children at serious risk of harm. The report amplifies calls to centre the experiences of children as victims of domestic abuse to ensure that their voices are clearly heard during proceedings.

“It is imperative that the Family Court embodies a culture of safety and protection from harm, where children’s needs and the impact of domestic abuse are central considerations, and that all victims and survivors of domestic abuse consistently feel listened to and respected. This is currently not the case,” Ms Jacobs said.

The report argues that the Family Court “operates behind a veil of secrecy” and, compared to the criminal courts, enforces very strict rules that stop proceedings being discussed outside its walls. To combat this, it proposes a new national oversight mechanism to uncover proceedings. The mechanism will observe and gather information in relation to cases in the Family Court involving domestic abuse, which Ms Jacobs says will be key to rebuilding public confidence in the system.

“We have seen significant progress made by the government over the last three years, following the publication of the Harm Panel report, including allowing specialist advocates access to the court to support victims and the establishment of the pilot Pathfinder Courts in North Wales and Dorset to better support child and adult victims and survivors.

“But it’s clear –- listening to the harrowing experiences of victims and survivors – that pace of reform must be accelerated.

“That’s why, I am pleased to set out plans for a pioneering monitoring and reporting mechanism to gain a much needed insight into the day-to-day of the Family Court in addressing domestic abuse. Public faith in the Family Court is essential: victims of domestic abuse must feel able to approach the court system with confidence that the safeguarding within the Domestic Abuse Act will be upheld to the highest level.”

Alongside the new mechanism, the Commissioner is calling for a series of critical measures to be implemented at pace by the Government, including funding to ensure victims and survivors can access specialist support and legal aid.

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