A week in family law: Domestic abuse, call for reform and worries for modernisation

A family of paper figures

Another week in family law passes and this week I have noted a number of articles and research on domestic abuse in the UK today. It’s also been another week of reform calls and a very sobering insight into the reality of the current court modernisation process. Here are my thoughts…

ONS examines data on partner abuse

Firstly, as I reported here, the Office for National Statistics (‘ONS’) has published an article examining data on ‘partner abuse’ in the UK from the last three years, to help develop insight into which women are most at risk of experiencing abuse by a partner or former partner.

Amongst the ONS’s findings were that young women were more likely to have experienced abuse in the last 12 months than older women, that women living in households with an income of less than £10,000 were more than four times as likely to have experienced abuse in the last 12 months than women living in households with an income of £50,000 or more, and that women living in social housing were nearly three times as likely to have experienced abuse in the last 12 months than women who were owner-occupiers.

Perhaps not entirely surprising findings, but hopefully useful in the fight against the scourge of domestic abuse.

Breaking the cycle of domestic abuse

Secondly, the children’s charity Barnardo’s has warned that the government is failing to see the full picture of the effects of domestic abuse on children, including its significant impact on children’s mental health. In its response to the consultation on the Domestic Abuse and Violence Bill, Barnardo’s says children affected by domestic violence and abuse need specialist services to help them deal with trauma and have the chance to lead healthy and happy lives.

Research by Barnardo’s shows that children in families where there is domestic abuse are often also vulnerable in other ways and can be affected by the experience for the rest of their lives. Barnardo’s says that not enough is being done to address the trauma children have suffered and the long-term impact abuse has on their lives. More needs to be done to break the cycle of domestic abuse, they say, as children who are not supported have a high chance of going on to be perpetrators or victims themselves. Agreed.

Make a stand

The third domestic abuse-related news story comes from a slightly unexpected source. The Chartered Institute of Housing (‘CIH’) has reported that more than 50 housing organisations have signed up to its ‘Make a Stand’ domestic abuse pledge.

The pledge, which was developed by CIH in partnership with the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance and Women’s Aid, consists of four commitments which housing organisations can make to support people who live and work in housing who are experiencing domestic abuse. These include putting in place a policy to support residents who are experiencing domestic abuse and to make information about national and local domestic abuse support services available on the organisation’s website and in other places which are easily accessible to residents and staff. Sounds like an excellent initiative.

Change is needed in family law

Moving on, Sir James Munby, the President of the Family Division, has called for the creation of “a one-stop shop in an enhanced re-vamped family court capable of dealing holistically, because it has been given the necessary tools, with all a family’s problems, whatever they may be.”

In a speech at the University of Liverpool he outlined four problems with the family courts as they are currently structured, including the fact that they do not deal with the underlying problems that lead to the cases coming before them and the fact that the family courts do not communicate and liaise with the courts of other jurisdictions, such as the criminal courts, which deal with the same families.

He suggested that the solution to these problems was to create a ‘one-stop shop’ which could deal “holistically with the family court’s traditional concerns with status, relationship breakdown and family finances; more widely, and ultimately more importantly, dealing holistically with all the multiple difficulties and deprivations – economic, social, educational, employment, housing and health (whether physical or mental) – to which so many children and their families are victims.” An interesting idea, which we will no doubt be hearing more of in the future.

A worrying picture of court modernisation

And finally, Resolution, the association of lawyers and other professionals who deal with family disputes, has given evidence to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, which is carrying out an inquiry into the benefits of the court’s modernisation programme.

As I explained here, Resolution’s evidence paints a very worrying picture of few or no benefits from the programme, delays and poor customer service from the courts, and court closures not being balanced out by improved efficiency and facilities in the remaining courts. They fear that the family courts are edging ever nearer to the breaking point. As I said, let us hope that the Committee take these points on board and that the message, in turn, is passed to HM Courts and Tribunals Service.

Have a good weekend.

If your partner makes you feel threatened or anxious or you are in an abusive relationship please do seek advice. The National Domestic Violence Helpline is open 24 hours a day and can be reached on 0808 2000 247

John Bolch

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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2 comments

spinner - June 8, 2018 at 11:22am

“They fear that the family courts are edging ever nearer to the breaking point” – Translated, we don’t like change. Every single necessary change to try to bring the legal system kicking and screaming into the 20th century is opposed because they have had it so cosy for so long. What they consider the good old days everyone else considers the bad old days and they still don’t seem to realise this.

We need an efficient fully digitised legal system fit for the 21st century that provides access to justice for *everyone*, not just those who can afford the fees. The only way to do that is to downsize the number of lawyers involved in the justice system and make sure the ones still involved are being utilised as efficiently as possible.

Having been a fairly heaving consumer of legal service over a number of years I would have just laughed at the inefficiency of the current system, if I hadn’t of been paying for it. The icing on the cake was turning up for court with my ex, both of us had barristers so together say 4-5k for the day and then being told that the judge had overrun on a previous case so we wouldn’t be heard that day but I would still have to pay the barrister fees. Any system that allows that is a joke and needs to be binned ASAP.

Ally mac - June 8, 2018 at 11:28am

A very gender biased article again. When will the legal profession, judiciary/courts & cafcass realise that 1 in 3 victims are men. Male domestic abuse seems to be totally ignored by Family Court system & Cafcass certainly don’t know what to do with it. Years & years after introducing their first Domestic Violence (where mothers are victims) protocol, they still don’t have one for men.

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