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MoJ shines a light on child protection

23 May 2019

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The Ministry of Justice has launched a three-month inquiry into child protection in family courts after more than 120 MPs called for a review on behalf of victims of domestic violence.

The project follows research by the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show, which found four children have been killed in the past five years by parents with a history of domestic violence given access by the courts.

The project aims to ensure that the family court works in the explicit interests of the child, such as their safety, health and well-being.

The MOJ-chaired panel of experts will include senior members of the judiciary, leading academics and charities.

It will consider how the family courts handle a range of offences including rape, child abuse, assault, sexual assault, murder and other violent crime.

The inquiry will examine the courts’ application of Practice Direction 12J, which sets out what the court is required to do in any case of domestic abuse, including relating to children where there are allegations that a party or child has experienced domestic abuse.

It will also look at the courts’ application of ‘barring orders’ which prevent further applications being made without leave of the court under the Children Act 1989 and it will gather evidence of the impact on the child and victim where child contact is sought by someone alleged to have, or who has, committed domestic abuse or other relevant offences

A public call for evidence will also be launched imminently and will look to those with direct involvement to share their experiences.

Justice minister Paul Maynard said: “Some of the most vulnerable in our society come before the family courts, and I am absolutely determined that we offer them every protection. This review will help us better understand victims’ experiences of the system, and make sure the family court is never used to coerce or re-traumatise those who have been abused. Its findings will be used to inform next steps so we can build on the raft of measures we have already introduced to protect victims of domestic abuse.”

Responding to the news, Law Society of England and Wales president Christina Blacklaws said the enquiry was “long overdue”.

Pointing to the impact of cuts to legal aid for domestic abuse victims in 2012, she added: “Whilst the inquiry and draft Domestic Abuse Bill both mark a step in the right direction, much more needs to be done to safeguard children in domestic abuse cases. 

“Reinstating legal aid for early advice and updating the means test will help to ensure domestic abuse is identified at the earliest possible point and children are properly protected from parents with a history of violence.”

The results of the MoJ’s inquiry will build on the draft Domestic Abuse Bill, published in January, which includes measures to ban abusers from directly cross-examining their victims in family courts. 

The government has also pledged £8m of funding announced to support children affected by domestic abuse.

Categorised in:

Technical legal practice Family Children

Tagged in:

domestic abuse; children