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Draft Domestic Abuse Bill is Published.
There is growing evidence that family court proceedings can be used by perpetrators of abuse to try and coerce or manipulate their former partner. Proceedings can provide an opportunity to use the children, or finances on divorce, as a means to remain in a victim’s life and force them to face their abuser in court, thereby causing further emotional and psychological harm.
It is, therefore, right that steps are taken to ensure that the court system does not unconsciously encourage such actions.
There is an embedded culture in the family courts to push to ensure that a ‘non-resident’ parent has contact with the children, and quite rightly so. However, consideration should not only be given to the impact this has on a family as a whole when domestic abuse is alleged or proven, but how proceedings can be conducted so as to avoid the possibility of further abuse.
Some steps have already been taken to address these issues with, for example, the introduction of Practice Direction 12J which requires the family courts to consider allegations of domestic abuse from the commencement of proceedings, and to ensure that contact arrangements are managed carefully and appropriately.
However, it has been argued that more should be done to protect victims who face cross-examination by the person they are alleging has been violent or abusive towards them. This is especially important now that there is an ever increasing number of litigants in person, following the changes to Legal Aid.
A debate about these issues was prompted in 2016 by a Women’s Aid report entitled ‘Nineteen Child Homicides’, which highlighted cases whereby nineteen children were killed by perpetrators of domestic abuse where there were unsafe contact arrangements.
On 18 July 2018, the House of Commons held a further debate on the progress of protecting victims of abuse in the family courts, following a consultation earlier in the year. This subsequently resulted in the draft Domestic Abuse Bill being published on 21 January 2019.
The responses to the 2018 consultation identified nine measures that were felt to require primary legislation. These are encompassed in the draft Bill and include:
- Provision for a statutory definition of domestic abuse to specifically include economic abuse and controlling and manipulative non-physical abuse;
- Prohibiting alleged perpetrators of abuse from cross-examining their victims in person in the family courts (and victims from having to cross-examine their abusers);
- Provide for a new Domestic Abuse Protection Notice and Domestic Abuse Protection Order to further protect victims and place restrictions on the actions of offenders.
In response to the draft Bill, the Chief Executive of Women’s Aid said, “Domestic abuse costs lives and it costs money. It is happening at epidemic levels yet it has been largely hidden behind closed doors. Now is the time to bring it out into the spotlight and address the impact of domestic abuse properly once and for all.”
Should you require any advice in relation to children or domestic abuse matters, please call DFA Law on 01604 609560 and we will be happy to help you.