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Womens Aid calls for reforms to family courts

Launching a report, Nineteen Child Homicides, Womens Aid reveals that 19 children were all intentionally killed by a parent who was also a known perpetrator of domestic abuse. The killings were made possible through unsafe child contact arrangements, formal and informal and over half of these child contact arrangements were ordered through the courts.

Key Statistics from Nineteen Child Homicides show:

  • 19 children were killed from 12 families
    ● 2 mothers were killed
    ● 2 children were seriously harmed through attempted murder
    ● For 7 out of the 12 families, the contact had been ordered through court.

Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, said: “There is a misguided belief within the family courts and among judges that, because a relationship has ended, so has the domestic abuse.

“Survivors frequently report to us that they and their children are re-victimised and traumatised by their abusers, even after separation, through the family court process,” added Ms Neate. “This trauma makes it extremely difficult for the non-abusive parent to advocate clearly and effectively for the safety of their child. In the criminal courts, there are protection measures in place to give victims fair access to justice. This is not the case in the family courts. For example, it is common for victims of domestic abuse to be cross-examined by the perpetrator. This must end.”

The charity’s campaign warns that the desire by the family courts to treat parents in exactly the same way, and get cases over with quickly, blinds them to the consequences of unsafe child contact and as the report shows, these consequences can be fatal. The charity is urging the culture of, ‘contact with the child, no matter what’ to end.

While domestic violence features in around 70 per cent of CAFCASS caseloads, fewer than one per cent of child contact application are refused, the charity warns.

“Clearly, the system is failing,” said Ms Neate. “The best interests of children should be the overriding principle of the family courts, but far too often this is simply not the case.”

The charity is calling for family courts to put children first, as the legal framework and guidance states, to prevent further avoidable child deaths. Domestic violence needs to be identified and its impact fully considered by the family court judiciary. Child contact arrangements must put the best interests of the child or children first, the report adds.

Women’s Aid is also urging protection measures for survivors of domestic abuse, similar to those available in criminal courts. Survivors of domestic abuse should always have access to a separate waiting room or area, and judges must ensure there is time for the non-abusive parent to leave court safely before releasing the perpetrator, the charity warns.

Find out more about the campaign here.

 

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