On Thursday 25th June, a major overhaul of Family Courts was announced by the Ministry of Justice to protect victims of domestic abuse. Our Head of Domestic Abuse and Gender Specific services, Nicola Fitzpatrick, gives her views on the reforms.

“In my role at Llamau I’ve witnessed for many years just how traumatic the family court process can be for people who have already been through so much trauma as a result of domestic abuse.

I’m so pleased to see that some action is now being taken to improve this experience which I’ve seen have such a negative impact on so many of the vulnerable people Llamau supports. But this should just be the start and the changes outlined by Ministry of Justice should be seen as the minimum standard required to protect both adults and children who have experienced domestic abuse.

The current family courts process relies heavily on evidence of physical abuse, demanding the victim ‘prove’ incidents and actions of abuse which have often already been proven and recorded by criminal courts. I really hope we’ll now see Family Court judges using their new powers to take into account what has already been proven by criminal courts. I’ve seen so many people we’ve supported struggle with having to prove to a court twice that the horrific abuse they’ve experienced over so many years did actually happen, and be re-traumatised by having to tell the same story of the horrendous things that have happened to them over and over again.  

It frightens me when I think about how often children become the forgotten victims of domestic abuse. Children do not just witness domestic abuse, they live it. They experience the same controlling and abusive behaviours as the adult victim, placing them at the same risk of immediate and longer term harm. So often perpetrators of abuse use their own children as a way to continue to control and abuse. If implemented correctly, children will also feel the effects of these improvements to the system. Again, I hope these changes mark the start of more measures being put in place to protect the most vulnerable in these situations. 

Currently, when a victim enters court they can be made to sit in the same waiting area as the perpetrator and to sit in the same room for hearings. Can you imagine how terrifying it must be for a victim to come face to face with their abuser again after finding it within themselves to finally flee the horror? I’ve sadly witnessed this layout being used by perpetrators to verbally abuse their victim or display behaviours, such as facial expressions, that were previously used to exert control and provoke fear. The new safety measures, including separate entrances and protective screens, will provide essential protection for victims when they need it most.

I’m very pleased with the suggestion of improved training for all family court professionals. As it stands, training is optional and can be done via E-learning. This simply isn’t good enough and does not provide professionals with the insight they need to make life changing decisions. I’d like to see this training become mandatory and be conducted on a face-to-face basis, covering all forms of Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (VAWDASV). The better the training, the better informed judges will be of the wider scope of abuse and how physical violence alone cannot be used as a benchmark for risk.

Domestic abuse is one of the biggest causes of homelessness for women and Family Courts are crucial in ensuring that adults and children are supported to move on from abuse and homelessness. I hope these changes mark the start of more changes which help to end homelessness and abuse for good.”

You can read the full details of the changes here.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse and is in immediate danger, dial 999.

If you have experienced or are experiencing domestic abuse or sexual violence in your relationship or at home, you should call the Live Fear Free Helpline on 0808 80 10 800. You can call the helpline for free 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also email Live Fear Free on [email protected] or talk to someone confidentially using the Live Fear Free live chat service.

If you live in Caerphilly, Merthyr, Monmouthshire or Newport you can contact us directly about the support we provide in these areas.

In Caerphilly contact us on 02920 860255.
In Merthyr contact us on 01443 414736.
In Monmouthshire contact us 01873 733590. 
In Newport contact us on 01633 244 134.