Family law practitioners will have to report allegations of domestic violence before going to court under new measures to protect children which were trailed by the government last week. Ministers hope to enable the family courts to consider not only the harm a child suffers from violence in the home but also the harm the child might suffer from witnessing violence on another person.
Announcing the proposals, the family courts minister Lord Filkin said that they would help ensure that parents and children were not at risk from violence following divorce or separation. Family law practitioners would be required to complete new forms which would ensure that allegations of violence are raised right at the start of court proceedings. These new procedures would affect courts dealing with contact, residence and other applications under section 8 of the Children Act.
“We want to encourage contact between children and both parents following divorce or separation,” Lord Filkin explained. “These new provisions will ensure better protection for victims of domestic violence and their children. They will reinforce the current best practice which aims to bring such allegations out into the public early rather than at a later stage in the proceedings and ensure that the courts make decisions in the light of all the facts.” The minister for children, Margaret Hodge, is expected to publish the Government’s response to the consultation paper Making Contact Work, which produced for the Lord Chancellor by a committee chaired by Lord Justice Wall.
Speaking over the weekend at the Solicitors Family Law Association conference in Harrogate, Lord Filkin returned to the subject of domestic violence. He said that ministers were aware that the criminal system does not necessarily offer protection and, in civil law, the evidence was that only 5 per cent apply for a civil injunction and those injunctions “probably only stop abuse in about a third of cases”. “So, looking at the totality of those statistics, they are dire in terms of how the system is performing,” he said. The minister flagged up the work of five specialist domestic violence courts, the evaluation of which will be published at the end of the month. “The Government is also looking at the issue of integrated courts and the interface between the family and criminal system,” he said.