New report highlights the transformative effects of domestic abuse training on family lawyers
By Law News
Following Ministry of Justice Family Harm Panel recommendations, SafeLives calls for specialist training to be embedded across the family court system
A report issued this week by SafeLives, a UK-wide charity working to end domestic abuse, has demonstrated the transformative impact of specialist domestic abuse training on family lawyers’ work with clients experiencing harm.
‘Is there a human behind that?’ reveals that over three-quarters (78%) of family lawyers who have undertaken SafeLives’ new specialist domestic abuse training said it would have a profound impact on how they interact with clients; 90% now feel equipped to take a trauma-informed approach in their work with victims, survivors, and their children. This latest report also details the current state of awareness, understanding and support for victims of domestic abuse across the family court system, putting survivors’ experiences at the heart of a series of recommendations.
SafeLives is calling on the Ministry of Justice to fund further training and put domestic abuse at the centre of its planned ‘reinvigoration’ of Local Family Justice Boards. The report also calls on law schools to ensure understanding of domestic abuse is a key feature of the family law curriculum, while encouraging solicitors’ firms, chambers, and Inns of Court to make domestic abuse training sessions available for all family lawyers.
A clear case for domestic abuse training
In the year to March 2022, 2.4 million adults, 1.7 million women and approximately 700,000 men, are estimated to have experienced domestic abuse. In 2022 alone, 32,049 applications were made for domestic violence remedies to the family courts - a record number.
SafeLives’ research unveils that many family lawyers lack vital knowledge of domestic abuse and, as such, survivors are left feeling disbelieved or ignored by their legal representation and traumatised by their time in the family courts. In turn, this leads to unsafe judgements.
In 2020, the Ministry of Justice Family Harm Panel concluded that “family courts approach domestic abuse cases inconsistently, and in some cases with harmful effects.” It made training for all participants in the family justice system a key recommendation. Echoing this, a report by the Domestic Abuse Commissioner earlier this year warned that 80% of legal practitioners felt that the Family Court is likely to retraumatise victims and survivors of domestic abuse, putting children at risk of further harm.
Responding to this urgent need, SafeLives worked with the Legal Education Foundation and experts from across the sector to develop specialist domestic abuse training for family lawyers. Crucially, the training embeds the voices of survivors as well as insight from frontline domestic abuse practitioners, and stakeholders from across the legal and domestic abuse sectors, including family lawyers themselves.
Empowered family lawyers change lives
Since January 2022, over 360 family lawyers have undertaken SafeLives’ targeted one-day training, empowering them to better support and represent survivors of domestic abuse through the family court system. Over nine-in-ten said the training had given them a strong understanding of trauma and practices that can re-traumatise victims and how to avoid these, more than four times the pre-training figure. The same number also said they now had a strong understanding of the impact of domestic abuse on children and young people, almost double the pre-training figure. In total, 90% would recommend the training to other professionals.
Reflecting on the results, Suzanne Jacobs, CEO, SafeLives said: "Survivors tell us repeatedly about the problems they face in family court. We know trauma can impact a survivor’s ability to give the best evidence and experiences of domestic abuse can impact children at the heart of private law cases. Yet our research shows this vital knowledge is too often lacking. Survivors are left feeling disbelieved or ignored and traumatised by their time in the family courts and unsafe judgements can be made based on only a partial picture.
“I’m delighted this new training is already making a difference to family legal professionals. The results of the evaluation show lawyers are more confident in their ability to represent survivors of domestic abuse effectively and sensitively. When survivors know that their lawyer believes them, is on their side, and understands the dynamics of domestic abuse and its impact on both adult and child victims – in short, implements a trauma-informed approach to their practice – it can make a world of difference.”
Following the success of the pilots, SafeLives will continue to offer regular ‘open courses’ for family lawyers to build understanding and ensure a trauma-informed approach to representing survivors of domestic abuse. The course is also available for solicitors’ firms, chambers, and Inns of Court to book in-house sessions for their staff and members to attend.