McHale & Co. Solicitors Blog

Children’s safety must be at the heart of all Family Court decisions

You would have thought that the above statement would not need to be justified but, unfortunately, it seems that it has become somewhat overlooked in recent times.

This week, Women’s Aid, the national domestic abuse charity, has launched a new campaign called “Child First”.  The aim of the campaign is for the safety of children to be put back at the centre of all decisions made in the family court.  At the same time of the campaign the charity has also published a report “Nineteen Child Homicides”.

This is harrowing reading.  It describes the cases of nineteen children who were killed by a parent, the parent being a person who inflicted domestic violence.  Having myself been involved in a case where children where killed by their father during a contact session one child being injured or killed is one child too many.  This should not be allowed to happen.

The report concludes that these cases show that there are shortcomings that need to be overcome so that the family court, the Children and Family Court service (CAFCASS) and the social work system can substantially reduce the possibility of harm to children.

The study looked at appropriate Serious Case Reviews for England and Wales between January 2005 and August 2015. 19 children in 12 families were killed by inflictors of domestic abuse.  These men were also their fathers!

So how is this allowed to happen?

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

However, this is not the case as the domestic abuse continues through the system.The family courts do not offer the same protection as the criminal courts to victims of abuse.  Unfortunately it is a regular occurrence for a victim of domestic violence to be cross-examined by the perpetrator.  In cases that deal with children arrangements the courts are very much of the view that the parents should be treated equally.  The courts are also under pressure from the government to dealt with cases quickly and pressure from support groups such as Fathers for Justice sometimes means that those cases of unsafe child contact are overlooked.

Women’s Aid states that domestic violence appears in about 70-90% of all cases going through the family court system.  However, less than 1% of applications for contact with children are refused.

This clearly shows that whilst the overriding principle is what is in the best interests of the child, this isn’t always what is occurring in reality.

The two main recommendations to the government and family court of the campaign “Child First” are as follows:

  1. Further avoidable child deaths must be prevented by ensuring that children are put first in the family courts. The courts must make certain that any form of domestic abuse is thoroughly determined and its effect is properly examined before any child contact arrangement is put into place. The welfare of the child must always come first.
  2. Make the family courts fit for purpose through the introduction of protection measures for survivors of domestic abuse. Such survivors that attend the family court should be looked after properly. This includes having a separate waiting room/area and ensuring that they can leave court safely.

Hopefully the report of “Nineteen Child Homicides” will reiterate to the government and the family court the importance of ensuring that children are safe when considering contact arrangements.

As Lord Justice Wall stated back in 2006 “It is, in my view, high time that the Family Justice System abandoned any reliance on the proposition that a man can have a history of domestic violence to the mother of this children but, nonetheless, be a good father.

That was said ten years ago and is more appropriate than ever today.

If you need a family specialist get in touch with our experts by email or phone 0161 928 3848.


Categories: Divorce & Family Law

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