By Gianna Huesch
The UK is going through a family law reform phase, with many of the debates mirroring ones we’ve seen in Australia in recent times.
As in our country, family violence issues are at the core of the fresh calls for reform, with senior judges calling for changes to better protect women and children from violent men. The debate has been sparked in part by revelations by UK charity Women’s Aid that it has identified 19 children who were killed in the last decade by violent fathers who were given contact with the children by family court judges.
Important changes to judicial guidance or practice directions will be now implemented, with one of the key changes announced being “that the presumption in the family court that there should be ‘contact at all costs’ with both parents would be scrapped…excluded in domestic violence cases where involvement of a parent in a child’s life would place the child or other parent at risk of harm”.
Similar to what we’ve seen in Australia, there are also calls from senior practitioners to introduce intensive training on family violence for members of the judiciary. For example, it’s necessary to train the judiciary to be more alert to the ways abusers can attempt to use the courts to continue their abuse:
“Family court judges should be sure that they understand the new offence of coercion [controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship].”
Senior judges have also called for end to cross-examination of family violence victims by alleged perpetrators, an issue that is currently being debated in Australia as well. Practitioners have also called for courts to “consider more carefully the waiting arrangements before a hearing, and arrangements for entering and existing the court building”. At present, some courts have no safe waiting rooms and no facility for videolinks at hearings.
The UK’s Ministry of Justice has indicated its support for the change in the law in order to enforce a ban on cross-examination.
Do you need help with a parenting matter or other family law matter? Please contact Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Family Law on (02) 6223 2400.