Children’s safety placed at risk in family court proceedings

A review, undertaken by courts watchdog the HM Inspectorate of Court Administration, found that the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service and the family courts administration needed to strengthen safety within their service delivery in domestic violence cases.

It added that both agencies needed to improve their arrangements for assessing the risks associated with allegations of domestic violence.

The report states that there is a “strong concern” that Cafcass did not give enough attention to user views and did not help women to participate fully in decisions involving their children. Inspectors also reported finding “unacceptably wide” variations in quality and consistency.

Other criticisms included that the nature of domestic abuse was not sufficiently understood by most Cafcass practitioners.

The review also found that the family courts administration, run by Her Majesty’s Courts Service, did not provide survivors of domestic violence with adequate help, including information, to enable them to engage fully in the legal process within the family courts.

It added that survivors generally viewed the family courts as unsympathetic and lacking awareness of the fear and anxiety that being in the court building with their abuser caused.

While some courts were found to have good arrangements for survivors, such as secure waiting areas and separate entrances, others had more limited facilities.

Anthony Douglas, chief executive of Cafcass, said: “Cafcass recognises the need to safeguard and support victims of domestic violence, including children, more rigorously.”

The chief executive of HMCS, Ron de Witt, said his organisation recognised that the family courts needed to improve the way they treated victims of domestic violence.

Both organisations have drawn up action plans in response to the recommendations.

Meanwhile, new research questions fathers’ rights groups’ claims that the family courts system is biased against men. The survey of 864 cases, carried out by the family courts union Napo, found that just over a third of fathers had no contact with their children before their case reached court and that this dropped to 8% after proceedings had taken place. This was compared to 8% of mothers before proceedings began dropping to 5% afterwards.

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