For most people, the thought of having to attend court fills them with dread and for the victims of abuse, this dread is heightened by having to be in the same building and, indeed, room, as their abuser. In addition, sometimes the abuser is not represented by a solicitor and is able to question the victim in the witness box, which can be, in itself, abuse
The Government and President of the Family Division have issued new guidance for judges and magistrates in cases involving arrangements for children where there are allegations of domestic abuse. This guidance came into force on 2 October 2017 and the new the guidance, in the main:-
Sets out what judges and magistrates are required to do rather than what they should do. It sets out a mandatory requirement for the courts to determine whether children and non-abusive parents will be at risk of harm from an order setting out arrangements for the child to spend time with the alleged abuser
Clarifies definitions of domestic abuse, coercive control and the harms caused to children
Makes clear that judges must carefully consider how domestic abuse impacts children and question whether the presumption that children should spend time with the parent with whom they do not live applies in these cases
States that interim orders for the child to spend time with the abuser should not be made if the court has made findings of domestic abuse and states that where a risk assessment has found that children are at ongoing risk from domestic abuse there should be no order made
Makes it clear that if victims or children require special measures within the family court, appropriate arrangements – specifically separate waiting rooms and entering and exit times – need to be made
Whilst all of the above may seem obvious, it has been a long time coming within the family court system!