Reforming the Family Court to support domestic abuse survivors

Tue 21st Nov 2023

The Family Court’s response is a key piece of the national response to domestic abuse. Improving the family justice system’s response to domestic abuse is a priority for the Domestic Abuse Commissioner.

Last week the Government provided its response to The Family Court and domestic abuse: achieving cultural change report published by the Domestic Abuse Commissioner in July 2023. The report called for significant reform to the Family Court to “produce meaningful, long-lasting change for adult and child victims and survivors of domestic abuse.” Several of the recommendations were committed to by the government, but many others were not.

What does this mean for Coodes and the clients we serve? Sarah Evans, Partner at Coodes, shares her thoughts.

Who is the Domestic Abuse Commissioner?

The Domestic Abuse Commissioner is an independent voice that speaks on behalf of victims and survivors. The Commissioner uses her statutory powers, which are set out in the Domestic Abuse Act, to raise public awareness and hold both agencies and government to account in tackling domestic abuse. Section 8 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 gives the Domestic Abuse Commissioner the power to report on any matter relating to domestic abuse.

The Commissioner’s vision is for a “family justice system that has a culture of safety and protection from harm, where children’s needs and the impact of domestic abuse are central considerations, and victims and survivors of domestic abuse feel listened to and respected.”

The Family Court and Domestic Abuse report

In July 2023 the Domestic Abuse Commissioner launched The Family Court and domestic abuse: achieving cultural change report which called for significant reform to the Family Court. The report made ten recommendations including on the topics of:

  • Monitoring and reporting
  • Best practice
  • Training and transparency
  • The voice of the child
  • Legal aid
  • Qualified legal representatives
  • The regulation of experts

On 9th November 2023 the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) responded to the report agreeing to several of the recommendations including a commitment to increase the number of Pathfinder Courts in 2024 and further funding of £180,000 in 2023/24 for the Commissioners Family Court Reporting and Review Mechanism (FCRRM) project which will collect data on the prevalence of domestic abuse for the first time.

In response to the Government, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner welcomed the child-centric focus in the Family Court and the government’s wider commitment to strengthening the voice of the child. However, they expressed disappointment that some of the recommendations were not accepted, this included the recommendations to:

  • Establish a multi-agency Domestic Abuse Best Practice Leads
  • Implement a stricter definition of the term ‘psychologist’
  • Improve domestic abuse support and awareness through specialist domestic abuse support workers for survivors during proceedings and better funding to train the judiciary
  • Removal of the legal aid means test for survivors in private family law proceedings

Overall, the Commissioner stated greater ambition was needed and without all of their recommendations being accepted in the round “we cannot guarantee that adult and child survivors will be understood and protected in the Family Court”.

What could this mean for you?

At Coodes we were disappointed to note that the means test for survivors in private law family cases will remain in place. This can often cause an unfair imbalance in access to representation. We will continue to explore all avenues for funding for our clients who find themselves in this most difficult of situations.

Locally, we have been pleased to note the introduction of Independent Domestic Violence Advocate’s based at court in order to support survivors during hearings. This is an invaluable service which will help to ensure their voice is heard at each stage. It has been well received and uptake of the support on offer has been high. It has opened up opportunities for better multi-agency working across services involved with family court proceedings, which we very much welcome.

At Coodes, our Family Team continues to provide legal support for our clients in these situations.

If you’re currently facing domestic violence, or are looking for help for somebody you know, please visit the below charities.

Firstlight – a charity for anyone who is experiencing or has experienced domestic abuse or sexual violence.

Telephone: 0300 777 4777

ManKind Initiative – the principal, expert and specialist charity in the UK focusing on male victims of domestic abuse.

Telephone:01823 334 244

Refuge – Refuge is the largest domestic abuse organisation in the UK. They offer support to thousands of women and their children, helping them to overcome the physical, emotional, financial and logistical impacts of abuse and rebuild their lives.

Telephone: 0808 2000 247

Tue 21st Nov 2023

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