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Improving the Family Court response to domestic abuse: Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s proposals

The Domestic Abuse Commissioner has published proposals for a mechanism a mechanism, within the office of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner (DAC), in partnership with the Victims' Commissioner (VC), to monitor and report on domestic abuse in private law children proceedings.

The proposals follow extensive engagement with lawyers, judges, Ministry of Justice, Cafcass, Cafcass Cymru, HMCTS, domestic abuse service organisations, children's organisations and – most importantly – with survivors and young people. 

The idea is that the mechanism will help to address the serious failings identified in the Harm Panel report making the courts and outcomes safer for children. It will do this by improving data and understanding of how private law children cases involving domestic abuse are treated and providing a means for the voices of survivors and children to be heard. Problems will be identified more quickly, and then hopefully – with family justice partners – addressed.

The mechanism is intended to improve both transparency and accountability within the family courts. It will aim to get to the heart of what is going on in the current system when it comes to domestic abuse.  And importantly, it will centre the voices of survivors and children.

The mechanism will not impinge on the important principle of judicial independence – the Commissioners will not be able to review or overturn individual decisions. But through gathering data on key questions that need answers – such as the extent to which courts are complying with important guidance on how to treat survivors and their cases – accountability will be improved.

The DAC says that currently very little data on domestic abuse-related cases is gathered by the family court – so it's hard to get a full picture of what survivors are facing across the country, and it is difficult to monitor the impact of any reforms.

Monitoring work is expected to change this. The intention is to develop an evidence base that will allow all relevant agencies within the family justice system to implement the changes needed to ensure a safe, risk-focused system for survivors and children. The ultimate aim is to develop a national picture to help improve consistency across different court areas in England and Wales, and across different levels of courts, from magistrates to the High Court.

The next stage will be to prepare a full design for the pilot phase of the mechanism. It is anticipated that the design will be completed early in 2022, and the pilot phase of the mechanism will commence in late Spring 2022.

For the proposals, click here.

5/12/21