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Overhaul of family courts announced to protect domestic abuse victims

The Ministry of Justice has announced a major overhaul of how the family courts deal with domestic abuse in order to protect survivors and their children.

The reforms will see more victims of domestic abuse given access to separate building entrances and waiting rooms as well as protective screens to shield them from their alleged abuser in court. It will also be easier for judges to issue barring orders which prevent abusive ex-partners from pursuing repeated applications to the courts.

The announcement follows an expert-led review into how the family courts handle domestic abuse and other serious offences which raised concerns that victims and children were being put at unnecessary risk. The panel was made up of representatives from charities, the judiciary, family law practitioners and academia, and took the views of more than 1,200 individuals and organisations. It found that an adversarial process in the family courts often worsened conflict between parents, which could retraumatise victims and their children.

Fundamental reform of how the courts hear cases, through a new investigative approach, will be trialled as part of the Integrated Domestic Abuse Courts pilot. The MoJ says that emphasis will be placed on getting to the root of an issue and ensuring all parties are safe and able to provide evidence on an equal footing without the retraumatising effects of being in court with an abusive ex-partner.

Ministers will also launch a review into the presumption of 'parental involvement' that often encourages a child's relationship with both parents, unless the involvement of that parent would put the child at risk. It will examine whether the right balance is being struck between the risk of harm to children and victims, and the right of the child to have a relationship with both parents. The government welcomes this key recommendation which requires careful consideration to implement correctly. Further details about the review will be announced in due course.

The measures form part on an Implementation Plan published by Ministers today which sets out immediate and longer-term steps to better protect victims in the family courts. These include:

For the full announcement and comment, click here. For the review, click here. For the Implementation Plan, click here.