Family courts to provide more support to domestic violence victims

17th March 2022 Family Law

Attending court can be an overwhelming prospect for most people, however, this can be particularly anxiety invoking for victims of domestic violence.

In child contact cases where there has been domestic violence, there may be a need for a Finding of Fact Hearing. This currently involves a victim recalling incidents of domestic violence and being cross examined by their ex-partner or ex-partner’s legal representative on those alleged incidents. 

In 2018, Women’s Aid produced a report, ‘What About My Right Not To Be Abused’, on domestic violence victims’ experiences in the family court. Many women reported feeling that the cross examination process was humiliating, degrading and frightening. The report ultimately called for more support for victims and a ‘wholesale review of the culture, practice and outcomes of the family courts in child contact cases where there are allegations of domestic abuse’.

On 08 March 2022 the Ministry of Justice announced that the pilot would be launched in the family courts in North Wales and Dorset to try and better support victims of domestic violence. It is hoped that this will be achieved by:

  • Judges reviewing information and having the option to request more documentation before a case actually gets to court. It is hoped that this will put greater emphasis on resolving the issues in a non-confrontational way with less need for the case to be debated in the court arena. 
  • Improving information sharing between agencies such as the police and domestic violence organisations working with the family. This would involve domestic abuse professionals sharing their risk assessments with the court so that a victim may not necessarily have to repeat their experiences in court if the information is already on the court file.

Justice Minister Lord Wolfson QC has said:

"This government is doing everything we can to protect victims, make them feel safer, and give them greater confidence in the justice system. These pilots will help ensure victims of domestic abuse aren’t further traumatised by the court process and that better decisions are made about their and their children’s lives. This alongside our landmark Domestic Abuse Act, will ensure that victims are loudly heard and fully supported."

We eagerly await the outcome of the pilot for our clients, with the hope being that these changes will be rolled out across all family courts in the UK in the very near future. 

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Zoe Worthington is a Solicitor located in Manchesterin our Family department

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