Lord Hutton’s inquiry and report thrust the spotlight on the
workings of an exceptional legal brain, as well as much else. Hence
I find myself exasperated that the report findings did not match
the evidence heard.
So it may be timely to mention another dilemma which exposes a
similar division between a political and legal approach to a
The House of Lords is steadily working through the Domestic
Violence, Crime and Victims Bill but you will struggle to find much
media coverage of its deliberations. I rather glibly regarded this
bill as yet another worthy attempt to improve human behaviour with
the main beneficiaries more likely to be the lawyers and
bureaucrats rather than victims. A malingering sense of guilt at my
cynicism drove me to look into the Lords’ deliberations on Hutton
Never one to give up, the Labour peer Baroness Thornton provoked
one of those debates which sends shivers down the spine: namely,
the issue of preventing contact between a parent and a child when
there is a suspicion of abuse.
If there is a sense of d’j… vu on this issue, as Lady
Thornton herself recalled, it may be because the same debate took
place during the passage of the Adoption and Children Bill (now
Act). Since then there has been considerable publicity about the
rights of fathers to maintain contact with their children after
In brief, Lady Thornton’s amendment states that, if a parent is
known to be violent within the family, the court should not allow
unsupervised access to a child unless it is satisfied that it can
be arranged safely.
Significantly, her amendment proposes that, if there is not enough
evidence to prove abuse, but the court is satisfied that there is a
real risk of harm to the child, it can still make whatever order it
thinks is appropriate to protect the child.
A coalition of children’s charities – the NSPCC, NCH, Childline and
Women’s Aid – supports the move, recognising the dilemma between
encouraging contact to continue but recognising that, often,
children cannot or will not say whether a parent is also an abuser.
It all left me uneasy at leaving so much to the judges. This
sentiment was echoed when I turned my attention to Hutton’s
judgements on this government and on the BBC.
Sheila Gunn is a political commentator and a Conservative
councillor in the London Borough of Camden.