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Review aims to improve level of child protection in family courts

The government has launched a review on how the family courts protect children and parents in cases of domestic abuse and other serious offences.

The three-month project aims to ensure that the family court works first and foremost in the explicit interests of the child, including their safety, health and well-being. The review, chaired by the Ministry of Justice, will consist of a range of experts including senior members of the judiciary, leading academics and charities.

There will also be contributions from members of the public who have had direct involvement so that they can share their experiences.

The move follows responses received through the government’s domestic abuse consultation in which concerns were raised around the family courts’ response to potential harm to children and victims. In addition to calls for better protections for children, some claim that domestic abusers are using the court system to re-traumatise their victims.

A government spokesperson said: “Some of the most vulnerable in our society come before the family courts, and we are 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.”

Specifically, the review will:

• examine the courts’ application of Practice Direction 12J – this relates to child arrangement cases where domestic abuse is a factor
• examine the courts’ application of ‘barring orders’ which prevent further applications being made without leave of the court under the Children Act 1989
• gather evidence of the impact on the child and victim where child contact is sought by someone alleged to have, or who has, committed domestic abuse or other relevant offences.

The panel will consider how the family courts handle a range of offences including rape, child abuse, assault, sexual assault, murder and other violent crime, with the government committed to ensuring the right protections are in place for victims and their children.

Please contact us if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article, or any aspect of family law.