The government must act urgently to ensure that family courts can provide better protection for children from abusive parents.
The call from Lorna Tipple, Associate Director of the Family Law team at Thursfields, came after a former head of family courts claimed that children’s voices and needs were not being properly looked after because the government said “it would all cost too much”.
Sir James Munby’s comments came in a BBC report on how at least four children had been killed in the last five years by parents with known histories of violence after family courts had granted access.
Lorna said it would be “shameful” if there was any truth in the cost claims.
She said: “I was shocked to hear how dozens of parents have told the BBC investigation that their abusive ex-partners were granted unsupervised contact with their child.
The Ministry of Justice has always insisted that a child’s welfare is its priority, but to hear claims that detailed proposals to improve this situation had come to nothing because of cost implications is nothing short of shameful, if true.”
The story comes as more than 120 MPs wrote to the government asking for an inquiry into how family courts in England and Wales treat victims of domestic violence.
Sir James, president of the Family Division of the High Court from 2013 to 2018, backed calls for the inquiry, saying that “a detailed, independent analysis by reputable academic researchers” was needed to find out how to best resolve the problem.
Lorna agreed and explained that Thursfields was seriously worried to learn how many family courts had effectively become “lawyer-free zones” because of cuts to legal aid.
She added: “There are clear concerns in a number of areas including how those attending courts are treated, with the system allegedly failing to accommodate the voices of children.
This has included claimed cases where children themselves have wished to see the court, give evidence or meet the judge but have been reportedly denied that opportunity.
To improve matters, it should be much easier for victims to access legal advice, for vulnerable court users such as children to have separate waiting areas, and for courts to ban abusers from cross-examining their victims.
The Ministry of Justice must prove its commitment by funding an independent analysis of how the family courts deal with domestic abuse and, if necessary, investing any funds that are necessary to better protect children.”
If you require advice on any Family Law matters please contact Lorna Tipple on 01562 512479 or firstname.lastname@example.org