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.