Family courts mishandling domestic abuse lawyers claim

Here at Cambridge Family Law Practice we have seen an increase in sharp time limits placed on even the most complex domestic abuse cases, which may feature multiple allegations over an extended period of time.

Our partner, Tricia Ashton comments:

“This of course impacts on the extent to which the allegations of abuse are explored….It is certainly our experience that the Court will limit the number of allegations to no more than ten, for example. The question in every case is whether this strikes the right balance between actively managing the case (which the Judge is required to do) and access to justice for the individual making the allegation – is the case being fully heard?”

This means judges may not receive the full context when considering allegations, she continued.

“It potentially does a disservice to someone where each incident in isolation is not seen as ‘abusive’ but a whole course of such behaviour demonstrates the dynamic of a controlling or abusive relationship.”

“Controlling or coercive behaviour” – sometime also referred to as “coercive control” – has been an offence since the introduction of the Serious Crime Act 2015. Both men and women have since been convicted of attempting to bully or control the behaviour of partners under the Act.

Meanwhile, government plans to assess the treatment of domestic cases in the family courts are inadequate, according to an open letter signed by 30 barristers and solicitors specialising in family law and human rights.

Last month, more than 120 MPs wrote to David Gauke MP, calling on the Justice Secretary to review the way in which victims of domestic abuse are treated, highlighting in particular the misuse of parental access rights by individuals convicted of rape. The letter was coordinated by Shadow Policing Minister Louise Haigh.

Gauke agreed to conduct a review, with a particular focus on the use of regulations designed to protect children. The findings would be announced in 12 weeks, the Minister announced.

But three months would not be sufficient time enough to fully tackle the issues, Haigh insisted and the lawyers have endorsed her stance in the open letter. They wrote:

“While we welcome the announcement…that the Government will review the treatment of domestic abuse.…we echo the comments of Louise Haigh MP that this is not enough. 12 weeks is not enough time to properly evaluate the reasons why the system is currently placing children and victims at unacceptable risk.”

They continued:

“We also note with concern that whilst the government propose to take evidence from various sources, no mention is made of taking evidence from family lawyers who deal with these issues at the coal face and can provide critical insight.”

For more information please feel free to contact Tricia, Adam, Simon, Jeremy, Gail or Sue on 01223 443333.