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Family courts domestic abuse pilot to place children’s voice at centre

A pilot scheme in family courts in Dorset and North Wales aim to boost the voice of children at every stage of the process.

The pilots will ensure that children are listened to and their views are taken into account when decisions are made about their futures. It will see children given more opportunity to explain how they feel and, following a court order, to say whether it is working for them.

Nicole Jacobs, Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales, said: “Crucial to the success of these pilots will be ensuring that domestic abuse – particularly coercive control and the impact it has on adult and child victims - is fully understood and the risk it poses to survivors and children is taken into account throughout the proceedings.”

The scheme aims to support victims of domestic abuse by improving information sharing between agencies such as the police, local authorities and the courts so that victims avoid retelling traumatic experiences.

This could include local domestic abuse professionals sharing risk assessments with the court to spare victims and parties in the case the trauma of having to unnecessarily repeat their experiences.

Judges will be permitted to review gathered information and request more documentation before a case gets to court. This avoids the circumstances of the case being debated in the courtroom, which can often exacerbate conflict between parents. The pilot will also encourage proceedings to be less adversarial so that more emphasis can be put into investigating and addressing allegations of domestic abuse and other harmful behaviours – rather than allowing confrontation in the courtroom to take place.

The courts and the agencies involved will carry out a review to ensure decisions made are working well between three months and a years after the court hearing. This includes assessing whether court orders are being followed and whether additional support is needed.

Justice Minister Lord Wolfson QC said: “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.”

The pilot follows from a review of Family Courts which found that an adversarial process often worsened conflict between parents and could have a damaging impact on victims and their children.

Nicole Jacobs, Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales, said: “Every day I hear from domestic abuse survivors about their experiences in the family courts. Many victims and their children feel re-traumatised by the process which is why seeing improvements in the family courts is one of my top priorities as Commissioner.”

The pilots will be tested initially in Bournemouth and Weymouth in Dorset, and Caernarfon, Mold, Prestatyn and Wrexham in North Wales for up to two years before a full evaluation.

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