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Domestic Abuse Commissioner calls for wide reaching reforms to ensure safety of children in the Family Courts

The domestic abuse commissioner for England and Wales, Nicole Jacobs, has called for widescale reform of the family court process to reduce the risk of retraumatising child victims of domestic abuse.

The call comes on the back of new research with legal practitioners which found that more than 80 percent of those surveyed felt that the Family Courts were likely to re-traumatise victims and survivors of domestic abuse.

This strengthens calls to centre the experiences of children as victims of domestic abuse to ensure that their voices are clearly heard during proceedings. The feeling is that that the voice of the child has been all but lost in the Court which operates behind a veil of secrecy and compared to the criminal courts, enforcing very strict rules that stop proceedings being discussed outside its walls.

Ms Jacobs said: “I have heard from hundreds of victims and survivors. They tell me how they have been re-traumatised by private family law children proceedings and left fearing for their children’s safety.

“It is imperative that the Family Court embodies a culture of safety and protection from harm, where children’s needs and the impact of domestic abuse are central considerations, and that all victims and survivors of domestic abuse consistently feel listened to and respected. This is currently not the case.

"We have seen significant progress made by the government over the last three years, following the publication of the Harm Panel report, including allowing specialist advocates access to the court to support victims and the establishment of the pilot Pathfinder Courts in North Wales and Dorset to better support child and adult victims and survivors. But it’s clear –- listening to the harrowing experiences of victims and survivors – that pace of reform must be accelerated

"That’s why, I am pleased to set out plans for a pioneering monitoring and reporting mechanism to gain a much needed insight into the day-to-day of the Family Court in addressing domestic abuse. Public faith in the Family Court is essential: victims of domestic abuse must feel able to approach the court system with confidence that the safeguarding within the Domestic Abuse Act will be upheld to the highest level.”

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Published on 20th July 2023