BLOG / Family Court Judges To Be Given Power to Intervene in Domestic Abuse cases
The Government has announced new reforms in domestic abuse cases as the domestic abuse bill went through its report stage in the House of Commons on Thursday 25th June 2020
A pilot scheme is to be developed in which Judges will be empowered to intervene in cases of domestic abuse as part of a number of legal changes to be announced. An expert panel from charities, the judiciary, family law practitioners and academia have been advising on the reforms. They spoke to more than 1,200 individuals and organisations for a report, “Assessing risk of harm to children and parents in private law cases”. Introducing the changes, the justice minister, Alex Chalk, said: “Every day the family courts see some of the most vulnerable in society and we have a duty to ensure they are protected and not put in danger. This report lays bare many hard truths about long-standing failings, but we are determined to drive the fundamental change necessary to keep victims and their children safe.”
The additional powers encourage the adoption of an ‘investigative’ or ‘inquisitorial’ approach by judges to direct the course of hearings, rather than following the traditionally adversarial approach. Judges are being urged to adopt a more "continental" style in the way they conduct their courtrooms by intervening and directing lines of questioning, rather than merely letting lawyers for each side present their case.
There will also be trials of a “one family, one judge” system where family and criminal proceedings are combined to avoid victims having to relive traumatic experiences on multiple occasions. Judges will be authorised to ban abusive ex-partners from repeatedly dragging their victims back to court.
The Ministry of Justice is also to review the pivotal presumption of ‘parental involvement’ in care cases which encourages a child to maintain relationships with both parents, unless involvement of a parent is deemed to put the child at risk. The review will examine whether the correct balance is being struck between the risk of harm to children and their right to have a relationship with both parents.
Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division of the High Court in England and Wales, said: “We are keen for judges to be fully involved in trialling reformed processes for family cases which involve allegations of harm. We hope that Parliament will be able to allocate the recommended resources which are identified by the MoJ expert panel as necessary to implement the proposals. “