Labour welcomes “overhaul” of family courts to protect domestic abuse victims

Elliot Chappell

Labour has welcomed new plans to provide domestic abuse victims with stronger protections in the family justice system, as the government announced an “overhaul of how family courts deal with the horrific crime”.

Reacting to the news today, the shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding Jess Phillips tweeted that “some days my job makes my heart sing, days when change feels possible & work pays off”.

A number of the changes will be brought forward in the domestic abuse bill currently progressing through the House of Commons. The reforms outlined by the Ministry of Justice include:

  • Entitlement to separate waiting rooms, entrances and screens in court for victims of domestic abuse;
  • Powers for judges in “barring orders” that will allow them to stop perpetrators from repeatedly taking ex-partners back to court;
  • A review of the balance between risk of harm to children and victims in the presumption of “parental involvement”;
  • A trial of a new approach with a domestic violence court where the judge examines the evidence, instead of the traditional British adversarial format with parents presenting their case; and
  • A commitment to improving training for professionals in the family court system.

Commenting on the announcement, Phillips said: “Labour welcomes this long-awaited review and its aims to better protect victims of domestic abuse and their children in the family courts system. The introduction of ‘special measures’ is a protection for victims giving evidence in family court cases that I, and many others, have been calling to be included in the domestic abuse bill from the beginning.

“The key now is action – no delay or dithering, the government needs to implement these recommendations urgently. The presumption of ‘parental involvement’ with children, when there has been domestic abuse, has resulted in unsafe contact arrangements between children and abusive parents. In some cases, this has led to tragedy. The review into this presumption is welcome but it must be swift; survivors and their children need better protection right now.”

Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds tweeted: “Excellent to see progress on an issue so many campaigners have worked incredibly hard on. I’m proud to work with Jess Phillips on this.

“Addressing domestic abuse – in whatever form it manifests itself – will always be a top priority for Labour.”

The reforms follow a review led by experts from charities, the judiciary, family law practitioners and academia that heard from 1,200 members of the public.

The body found that contributions highlighted a “feeling that abuse is systematically minimised”, of “children’s voices not being heard” and “allegations being ignored and dismissed.

It also found that an “adversarial system” in family courts often functioned to worsen conflict between parents and could re-traumatise victims and their children.

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