Senior judges are taking steps to end the presumption that a father must have contact with a child where there is evidence of domestic abuse that would put the child or mother at risk. The reforms are to be introduced in the family courts after campaigning by the charity Women’s Aid, which identified that 19 children have been killed in the last 10 years by their violent fathers after being given contact with them by judges. The changes include a demand from one of the most senior family court judges for all the judiciary to have further training on domestic violence and to act to ensure women and children are protected.
Mr Justice Cobb announced the changes on Friday after talks with Women’s Aid, and following concerns raised in a Guardian investigation.
Since its report on the child murders last year, Women’s Aid has identified another case in which a child was murdered by a father after being given contact via the family court. The charity is presenting their updated report to the prime minister in Downing Street on Monday.
Cobb’s reforms were endorsed on Friday by the President of the family division, Sir James Munby, who praised both Women’s Aid and the “hard hitting articles in the Guardian” for highlighting the issues.
The changes are contained in amendments to judicial guidance known as practice direction 12J. A key change announced by Cobb was that the presumption in the family court that there should be “contact at all costs” with both parents would be scrapped. He said it should be excluded in domestic violence cases where involvement of a parent in a child’s life would place the child or other parent at risk of harm.
He also said judges needed to be more alert to perpetrators of domestic violence using the courts as a way to continue their abuse. “Family court judges should be sure that they understand the new offence of coercion [controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship],” he said.
Cobb called for judges to be more alert to how violent men could use the access within the courts to assault their former partners, putting forward a proposal for courts to consider more carefully the waiting arrangements before a hearing, and arrangements for entering and exiting the court building.
The Ministry of Justice has indicated – following the articles in the Guardian and questions in parliament – that it is going to change the law to enforce a ban on direct cross-examination.
Source for full article www.theguardian.com