Government to review whether family courts are protecting children

The Ministry of Justice-led review will look at how the family courts handle cases where domestic abuse and other serious offences have occurred


The government has announced a three-month review of the family courts to see whether they are effectively protecting children and parents in cases of domestic abuse and other serious offences.

The review will build on the draft Domestic Abuse Bill, published in January, and includes an open call for evidence on the efficacy of the family courts in cases where serious offences have been committed.

It will be chaired by a panel of experts, the government announced, and aims to ensure the courts work in “the explicit interest of the child”.

The review will specifically look at:

  • The courts’ application of Practice Direction 12J, which relates to child arrangement cases where domestic abuse is a factor
  • The courts’ use of ‘barring orders’, which prevent further applications being made without leave of the court under the Children Act 1989
  • Gathering evidence of the impact on the child and victim where child contact is sought by someone alleged to have, or who has, committed domestic abuse or other relevant offences.

It comes as responses to the government’s domestic abuse consultation raised concerns around the family courts’ response to potential harm to children and victims, with calls for better protections for children and claims domestic abusers were using the court system to re-traumatise their victims.

Justice minister, Paul Maynard, said he was determined those who come through the courts are offered protection.

“This review will help us better understand victims’ experiences of the system, and make sure the family court is never used to coerce or re-traumatise those who have been abused. Its findings will be used to inform next steps so we can build on the raft of measures we have already introduced to protect victims of domestic abuse,” Maynard said.

The panel – whose members are yet to be announced but will be led by the Ministry of Justice and include senior members of the judiciary, leading academics and charities – will consider how a range of offences including rape, child abuse, assault, sexual assault, murder and other violent crimes are handled by the family courts.

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7 Responses to Government to review whether family courts are protecting children

  1. Tom J May 21, 2019 at 1:49 pm #

    I really hope that the panel is balanced and proportionate. Judge Munby identified that the net of what constitutes domestic abuse widens every year. We also know from numerous serious case reviews that father’s are wrongly and unfairly cut out by social workers when there is a whiff of domestic abuse.

    It must also remain true to the aim of making decisions in “the explicit interest of the child”. This will not be popular, as there are many cases where a father is awful to the mother, yet is a great father to the child. So the interests of the child must be put in front of the mother.

    • Iracema June 9, 2019 at 9:56 pm #

      By being awful to the mother, the father can’t be really “great” to his child. It will have an impact on the mother and it will affect the quality time with her child. Common sens!

  2. dk May 22, 2019 at 3:09 pm #

    I’ve long felt family courts attempt to put wrong general perceived wrongs in social work practice when it comes to fathers and men (and let’s be clear here that it is overwhelmingly men who perpetrate domestic abuse, even though there are many vivid and heart-breaking examples of female-led abuse) and in doing so have gone much too far. We know that much mainstream child protection social work side-lines men. But we also know the law completely undermines victims and survivors of abuse; it characterises those too traumatised to offer coherent accounts of what has been done to them as unreliable and misunderstands the unconscious or deliberate survival and avoidance-detecting behaviours of those who perpetrate as good character. When it comes to domestic abuse and alleged domestic abuse, I have seen many, many family court judges step massively outside of the limits of their experience, knowledge and even remit while themselves accusing social workers of doing the same.

    I think the above idea, that a father can be ‘awful to the mother, yet is a great father to the child’ is a half-truth verging on nonsense. Family courts need to understand that behaviour and conduct that undermines, even destroys, another parent’s capacity to be who they need to be to their child is child abuse. When a father is ‘awful’ to a mother, it has a direct and harmful impact on how that child is parented and cared for. Munby was wrong to suggest that what constitutes domestic abuse keeps getting broader; what happens is that our eyes are opening wider.

    • Kenneth May 23, 2019 at 11:12 am #

      Any experienced Social Wokers likely to be on the Panel ?

    • Helen Walker June 11, 2019 at 2:10 am #

      We are now realising it is a broad area. It’s impact is destructive. There is no such thing as abusive husband and a good father.

  3. C. J. L May 23, 2019 at 10:16 am #

    This review is too narrow in scope. It concentrates only on offences, which suggest those behaviours and activities considered criminal under law. There are plenty of other behaviours and activities which are socially and morally unacceptable but which are not considered a criminal offence.

    Identified parental alienation, is dealt with in civil court, it is considered by growing number of prominent experts in family law as a form of child abuse (head of cafcass for one has cited this). Yet there is no criminal element attached to parental alienation.

    This review is nothing but tick box exercise to try and convince populous, families matter. Family courts exist purely as a business to profit government because government benefit directly and indirectly without loss as a result of the real outputs of many family court cases

  4. Nyklolas June 10, 2019 at 10:05 pm #

    I agree with Tom J and Judge Munby
    DV definitions are now so broad it can be just about anything An allegation of DV can be made purely on the subjective feelings I felt harassed I felt upset by that I was uncomfortable. Furthermore what defines the perpetration of DV is only selectively applied. Financial control is DV how is When custody % is used to gain maximum Child support not financial abuse how is denying a child contact and a relationship with a parent grandparents siblings not family domestic violence when that is a form of DV it is defined as isolating a person from their family
    wHO now recognizes Parental alienation as detrimental to a child will this review ??? Of course not !!
    Parents don’t have good relationships when they are together yet are great parents to thier child are children going to be removed in their best interests from these families