Abusive partners could be banned from seeing their children, as the government launches an inquiry into “secretive” family courts.
Legal experts and children’s charities welcomed the announcement yesterday [TUES] saying that an inquiry was “long overdue” and that for too long “the family courts have been shrouded in secrecy”.
The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) revealed that it will convene a panel of experts for a three-month consultation to review family courts, with those directly involved in relevant cases to be “imminently” called to give evidence.
The inquiry will be “wide-ranging”, but The Telegraph understands that it will particularly assess where there is room for improvement or strengthening regarding parental access rights.
Currently people conviction of domestic abuse crimes can apply to have access to see their children, children can request to see them. However child protection in the family courts regarding parental access will come under fresh scrutiny, with the result that abusive partners could be banned from having access to their children.
This comes following a string of scandals in the family courts. Research by the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme found that four children have been killed in the past five years by parents with a history of domestic violence given access by the courts.
Last week more than 120 MPs called for an urgent inquiry into the way the family courts in England and Wales treat victims of domestic abuse or rape and their children.
They also backed calls for a change in the law to make it more difficult for abusers to have contact with children conceived through rape after campaigner Sammy Woodhouse, a survivor of Rotherham's child exploitation scandal, called for a law change after revealing the man who raped her as a teenager had been given a chance to play a role in her son's life.
The MOJ said that the review follows concerns raised in its domestic abuse consultation about the family court’s response to potential harm to children and victims as well as concerns regarding the alleged perpetrators of domestic abuse using the court system to re-traumatise their alleged victims.
The panel will examine child arrangement in cases where domestic abuse is a factor, review the court’s application of ‘barring’ orders, and gather evidence on the impact on children where contact is sought by someone alleged to have, or who has, committed domestic abuse or other relevant offences.
Almudena Lara, Head of policy and public affairs at NSPCC, said: “The family courts have been shrouded in secrecy for so long, it’s difficult to gauge what is going on behind their closed doors and whether the welfare of the child is at the centre of all decisions.
“For this review to properly shine a light on the process and make the right changes, it must listen to the children who have been through the courts and understand what is in their best interests.”
The MOJ added that the latest work will build on its draft domestic abuse bill, which will ban the direct cross-examination of domestic violence victims by their alleged abusive ex-partners in court.
Organisations are also being given £900,000 to fund specially trained staff who will offer emotional and practical support to domestic abuse victims before, during and after family court hearings.
Justice minister, Paul Maynard, said: “Some of the most vulnerable in our society come before the family courts, and I am absolutely determined that we offer them every 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.”