The Ministry of Justice has announced a ‘major overhaul’ of how the family courts deal with domestic abuse.

The overhaul is in response to a report by a panel of experts which looked at the risk of harm to children and parents in cases involving disputes between parents about the arrangements for their children. The panel raised concerns that victims of domestic abuse and children were being put at unnecessary risk.

The new measures announced by the Ministry included:

– Giving an automatic entitlement for special measures in the courtroom for victims of domestic abuse going through the family courts, such as separate waiting rooms, separate building entrances and protective screens to shield them from their alleged abuser in court.

– Giving judges stronger powers to prevent abusers repeatedly dragging a victim back to court over child arrangements.

– Trialling an investigative, problem-solving approach in private family law proceedings, in order to reduce conflict. This could see judges decide what evidence to investigate, rather than both parties presenting their cases against each other.

– Reviewing the presumption of ‘parental involvement’ and whether the right balance is struck between the risk of harm to children and victims, with the right of the child to have a relationship with both parents.

Commenting on the measures Dame Vera Baird QC, Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales said:

“This panel of experts has dug deep to understand, and address, the serious harm to domestic abuse victims and their children caused over many years by the presumption of contact, and the intensely adversarial process present in the family courts.

“With children’s voices rarely heard in these proceeding and even more rarely heeded, victims and children are in need of better protections from abusive perpetrators.

“I welcome the report, its recommendations, and the implementation plan which will help to address these, and other concerns. It has my full support. And I call on the government to action this as a matter of urgency.”

You can read the report here.

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If you would like to know more about protecting yourself from domestic violence and abuse, Family Law Café can put you in touch with an expert family lawyer – for further information, call us on 020 3904 0506, or click here, and fill in the form.

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Family Law Cafe offers a modern, agile and compassionate approach to family law, giving you a helping hand when you need it and guiding you through the complexities of this difficult and stressful area. Family Law Cafe is your start-point for getting matters sorted with strategy, support and security.

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For the last two weeks we have all been ‘locked down’ due to the Coronavirus restrictions, forced to stay in our homes, save for specific purposes. This is obviously a trial for everyone, but for some it can be much worse.

What if the partner with whom you are having to stay at home is abusive? What can you do to protect yourself in this situation?

Leaving home

Obviously, if you are suffering serious abuse at the hands of your partner then you will not want to stay under the same roof as them. But can you leave home?

As we all know, or should know, the Coronavirus restrictions mean that it is an offence to leave home without “reasonable excuse”. We all also know that “reasonable excuse” includes obtaining basic necessities, taking exercise and seeking medical assistance. However, it also includes two other reasons, which may be relevant to a victim of domestic abuse:

1. Leaving the house to access “critical public services.” This includes social services and services provided to those at risk; and

2. Leaving the house to avoid injury or illness, or to escape a risk of harm.

Further to this, Home Secretary Priti Patel has confirmed that: “whilst our advice is to stay at home, anyone who is at risk of, or experiencing, domestic abuse, is still able to leave and seek refuge.”

Obviously, the police are enforcing the lockdown. However, they have been issued with guidance which specifically acknowledges that it may not be safe for everyone to stay at home.

So, in short, you can leave your home without breaching the Coronavirus restrictions, if you believe you will be at risk of harm due to an abusive partner.

But where can I go?

If you have a friend or family who you can stay with, all well and good (although you may still need to comply with self-isolation rules). But what if you don’t have anywhere to go?

Well, refuges and other forms of emergency accommodation are still open, and the Government has specifically stated that they do not need to close, unless directed to do so by Public Health England or the Government.

However some refuges may not be able to provide self-contained spaces where people can self-isolate, or ensure suitable space for social distancing, which may limit the service they can offer. Further, emergency accommodation may have to close if too many staff members need to self-isolate or if suitable social distancing measures cannot be implemented.

For further information about the availability of accommodation near to you, contact the National Domestic Abuse Hotline.

What other steps can I take to protect myself?

It is still possible to apply to a court for a domestic violence injunction, despite the Coronavirus restrictions.

Such injunctions take two forms:

1. A non-molestation order, which prevents another person from harming you or a child; and

2. An occupation order, which will indicate who can live in the family home and can direct another person to leave the home.

Whilst some courts have been temporarily closed due to the Coronavirus outbreak, there are still courts open that will deal with urgent injunction applications. Most injunction hearings will take place by telephone.

If you are in immediate danger, then you should still call the police, on 999.

Further advice and help

The above is just some general advice. For more detailed advice, or if you wish to instruct a lawyer to obtain an injunction on your behalf, call us on 020 3904 0506, or click the ‘Sign up’ button at the top of the page, and fill in the form.

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Family Law Cafe offers a modern, agile and compassionate approach to family law, giving you a helping hand when you need it and guiding you through the complexities of this difficult and stressful area. Family Law Cafe is your start-point for getting matters sorted with strategy, support and security.

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An enhanced version of the Domestic Abuse Bill has been introduced to Parliament by the Government. The Bill, which aims to strengthen protection for victims of abuse, had been introduced in the last Parliament, but failed to complete its passage through Parliament before the General Election.

To recap, measures in the Bill include: introducing the first ever statutory government definition of domestic abuse, which will include economic abuse; establishing a Domestic Abuse Commissioner to champion victims and survivors; introducing new Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders to further protect victims and place restrictions on the actions of offenders; and prohibiting the cross-examination of victims by their alleged abusers in the family courts.

As we reported here, the Government has already announced that Nicole Jacobs will be the first Domestic Abuse Commissioner.

Enhancements to the Bill include requiring local authorities in England to provide support and ensure safe accommodation for victims and their children, and improving on the ban on alleged abusers from cross-examining their victims in the family courts, by applying it to all family proceedings where there is evidence of domestic abuse.

Commenting on the Bill Home Secretary Priti Patel said:

“An astonishing 2.4 million people in England and Wales have suffered domestic abuse. That is unacceptable, and the reason why it is so important to shine a light on this crime.

“The Domestic Abuse Bill is a monumental step to empower victims and survivors, provide protection and tackle perpetrators at the earliest stage.

“Through this bill and bolstering law enforcement, we will be able to keep millions of victims safe.”

Family Law Café welcomes the re-introduction of this important Bill, and hopes that it will swiftly pass onto the statute book.

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Family Law Cafe surrounds and supports the customer with both legal and pastoral care, end to end, from top barristers to case workers to therapists and mediators, to help the customer get the best possible result with the minimum stress. Family Law Cafe is your start-point for getting matters sorted with strategy, support and security.

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Rosie Duffield, the Labour MP for Canterbury, has given a harrowing account of her experience of domestic abuse, in a debate in the House of Commons.

The MP was speaking during the course of the second reading debate on the Domestic Abuse Bill, which will introduce a comprehensive package of measures to tackle domestic abuse.

Ms Duffield described how she suffered verbal abuse, humiliation and financial control at the hands of her former partner. She said:

“Domestic violence has many faces and the faces of those who survive it are varied too. Sometimes there are no bruises. Abuse is very often all about control and power.”

She said that at first her relationship with her partner had been full of romantic gestures. However, over time he changed, using verbal intimidation and criticism, and sometimes not speaking to her at all. She said that expressions such as “You’re mine for life” can sound menacing, and are used as a warning over and over again. She described a repeating pattern of reward, punishment, promises of happy ever after, alternating with abject rage, menace, silent treatment and coercive control. Eventually the abuse spilled out in public, with him shouting at her at constituency events, causing her extreme humiliation.

She was only able to bring an end to the abuse by taking away her partner’s house keys, thereby locking him out of her home. She concluded by saying:

“You realise it’s not your fault. He is left alone with his rage and narcissism.

“If anyone is watching and needs a friend, please reach out if it safe to do so and please talk to any of us, because we will be there and hold your hand.”

The Speaker of the House, John Bercow, said that Ms Duffield’s speech had been “simultaneously horrifying and as moving a contribution” as he had heard in his 22 years in the Commons.

The speech is a reminder that domestic abuse can happen to anyone, and can take many forms. Whatever form it takes, no victim has to suffer. If you would like to learn about protecting yourself from domestic violence and abuse, Family Law Café can help. To book a free initial consultation with us click the green button at the top of this page and fill in the form, or call us on 020 3904 0506.

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Family Law Cafe offers a modern, agile and compassionate approach to family law, giving you a helping hand when you need it and guiding you through the complexities of this difficult and stressful area.

Image of Rosie Duffield: Chris McAndrew [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

The Home Secretary Priti Patel has announced that Nicole Jacobs will be the first Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales.

Ms Jacobs will initially work as the designate Commissioner, as the post has technically not yet been created. It was due to be created by the Domestic Abuse Bill, but the Bill fell when Parliament was prorogued. The Government has pledged to re-introduce the Bill in the next Parliamentary session. [UPDATE: The Supreme Court has, of course, now decided that Parliament was not in fact prorogued. Hopefully, this will mean that the Bill will now continue its passage through Parliament.]

The Commissioner will be tasked with encouraging good practice in preventing domestic abuse; identifying both those at risk of abuse as well as those perpetrating it and improving the protection and provision of support to those affected by domestic abuse. They will also be able to publish reports that hold statutory agencies and the government to account.

Ms Jacobs was the former Chief Executive Officer at charity Standing Together Against Domestic Violence and has more than two decades of experience working to reduce domestic abuse. Responding to her appointment, she said:

“Establishing the Office of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner shows the government’s commitment to reducing harm and improving the lives of those who experience domestic abuse.

“It is an honour and a privilege to be appointed as the first Commissioner and I intend to raise the voices of victims and survivors of all ages, status and background and ensure that we shine a light on practice that fails them.”

Family Law Cafe wishes her well, and hopes that her appointment will improve the response to the scourge of domestic abuse.

If you would like to know more about protecting yourself from domestic violence and abuse, Family Law Café can help. To book a free initial consultation with us click the green button at the top of this page and fill in the form, or call us on 020 3904 0506.

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Image of Nicole Jacobs reproduced from the GOV.UK website, Crown copyright, licensed under the Open Government Licence.

Several newspapers are today carrying a story about a wife who is apparently unable to obtain a divorce, despite her husband being jailed for seriously assaulting her. The story goes that her husband, who is currently serving a three years and three months prison sentence at HM Prison Manchester, commonly known as ‘Strangeways’, is preventing the divorce by not consenting to it. But is it really the case that a husband in this situation can prevent a divorce?

We don’t have all of the relevant facts of this particular case, so we cannot comment upon it in detail. What follows are a few basic principles.

As the law on divorce currently stands anyone wishing to take divorce proceedings must prove that the other party has committed adultery, that the other party has behaved unreasonably, that the other party has deserted them for two years, that they have been separated for two years and the other party consents to a divorce, or that they have been separated for five years. It will be noted that the consent of the other party is only required for a two year separation divorce, although in other cases the other party can seek to defend the divorce.

Clearly, a serious assault of the type suffered by the wife in the reported case would amount to unreasonable behaviour. The husband could seek to defend the divorce, but as a court has already found him guilty of the assault then it would be extremely unlikely that any defence would be successful.

Of course, if the reform of the divorce laws to introduce no-fault divorce goes ahead, then all of this will be academic – there will be no need to prove adultery, unreasonable behaviour, etc., and the other party would not be able to defend the case.

There is one other matter that could be delaying the divorce: that the husband is refusing to acknowledge receipt of the divorce papers. In that case, the wife only needs to prove that he has received them, and she will be able to proceed with the divorce.

In short, if a wife has suffered serious abuse at the hands of her husband then she should be able to get a divorce. The husband could seek to delay the divorce, but it is very unlikely that he could prevent it.

As we said, we cannot advise specifically upon the case in the newspapers. However, there does appear to be a moral to take from it: obtain expert legal advice before issuing divorce proceedings. Family Law Cafe can help you find that advice. To book a free initial consultation with us click the green button at the top of this page and fill in the form, or call us on 020 3904 0506.

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Family Law Cafe offers a modern, agile and compassionate approach to family law, giving you a helping hand when you need it and guiding you through the complexities of this difficult and stressful area.

Image: HMP Manchester by Mikey, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

A public call for evidence, or consultation, has been launched on how the family courts protect children and parents in private law children cases concerning domestic abuse and other serious offences. The call for evidence is part of a three-month project overseen by a panel of experts, aimed at throwing a spotlight on how the family courts manage the safety and well-being of children when there is a risk of domestic abuse.

Specifically, the call for evidence will focus on private family law proceedings. Amongst the questions it will ask are:

• How Practice Direction 12J, which relates to child arrangement cases where domestic abuse is a factor, is being applied. This includes its interaction with the presumption that involvement of both parents in the life of the child concerned will usually further the child’s welfare.

• How ‘barring orders’ are being used. These prevent further applications being made without leave of the court. Such applications could be used to re-traumatise those who’ve faced abuse.

• What is the impact on the child and parent victim where child contact is sought by someone alleged to have, or who has, committed domestic abuse or other relevant offences.

Justice Minister Paul Maynard said:

“Domestic abuse destroys lives, which is why survivors and their children must have every confidence that they will be protected in the family courts.

“Just this week we introduced legislation that will ban abusers from cross-examining their victims in the family courts, and throughout our review we will be engaging with victims across the country to make sure we are doing all we can to protect them further.

“The review – ordered by ministers in May – will also consider the level of encouragement victims are given to raise concerns, the standard of domestic abuse information shared with courts, as well as looking to better understand the different types of coercive control.”

You can find the consultation here.

If you are involved in a children case in which domestic abuse is a factor, you should seek expert legal help. Family Law Cafe can provide this. To book a free initial consultation with us click the green button at the top of this page and fill in the form, or call us on 020 3904 0506.

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The government’s Domestic Abuse Bill, which has been described as “the most comprehensive package ever presented to Parliament to tackle domestic abuse, both supporting victims and bringing perpetrators to justice”, is to receive its first reading in the House of Commons today.

Measures in the Bill include:

• introducing the first ever statutory government definition of domestic abuse, which will include economic abuse

• establishing a Domestic Abuse Commissioner to champion victims and survivors

• introducing new Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders to further protect victims and place restrictions on the actions of offenders

• prohibiting the cross-examination of victims by their abusers in the family courts

• providing automatic eligibility for special measures to support more victims to give evidence in the criminal courts

Justice Secretary David Gauke commented:

“This Bill marks a fundamental shift in our response to domestic abuse – establishing greater protections for victims, whilst ensuring perpetrators feel the full weight of the law.

“By banning abusers from cross-examining their victims in the family courts, and giving courts greater powers through new protection orders, we are making sure the justice system is better equipped than ever to tackle this horrific crime.”

As we have said before, Family Law Cafe welcomes the Bill, in particular the provision prohibiting the cross-examination of alleged victims by their alleged abusers in the family courts.

For further information about how you can protect yourself from domestic abuse, see this post. If you would like to know more about protecting yourself from domestic violence and abuse, or if you would like to apply for a court order, Family Law Café can help. To book a free initial consultation with us click the green button at the top of this page and fill in the form, or call us on 020 3904 0506.

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Family Law Cafe offers a modern, agile and compassionate approach to family law, giving you a helping hand when you need it and guiding you through the complexities of this difficult and stressful area.

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The last thing that we here at Family Law Cafe want to do is take sides in the argument over who should or should not be this country’s next Prime Minister. However, there is an important message to take from the reporting of an incident the other day at the home of Boris Johnson and his partner, Carrie Symonds.

The important message is this: if you are concerned that a serious incident of domestic abuse may be taking place then you should report it to the police. Some have argued that what happened between Mr Johnson and Ms Symonds was private and should not have been reported. However, it would be a serious retrograde step if concerned neighbours felt they should not report their concerns because that might breach someone’s privacy. A large number domestic abuse incidents only come to the attention of the police because they are reported by concerned neighbours, and failing to report could put many victims at risk.

It is of course true that everyone is entitled to privacy in their own home, and we are not for one moment suggesting that anyone should pry into the private life of a neighbour. However, an altercation that is so loud that it can be heard by others is no longer private. We are not of course saying that anything untoward happened at Mr Johnson’s home, just that genuine concerns should be passed on to the authorities. Domestic abuse is a scourge that we all have a duty to address.

If you are a victim of domestic abuse then there are steps you can take to protect yourself. For a summary, see this post. For further information, please contact us. To book a free initial consultation, click the green button at the top of this page and fill in the form, or call us on 020 3904 0506.

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Family Law Cafe’s accessible team of legal experts from various disciplines expedites the customer’s case and keeps them informed and in control 24/7 through a unique and secure online portal.

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The Government has today published a draft Domestic Abuse Bill, aimed at supporting victims and their families, and pursuing offenders.

The draft Bill includes provisions to:

• introduce the first ever statutory government definition of domestic abuse, to specifically include economic abuse and controlling and manipulative non-physical abuse;

• establish a Domestic Abuse Commissioner to drive the response to domestic abuse issues;

• introduce new Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders to further protect victims and place restrictions on the actions of offenders; and

• prohibit the cross-examination of victims by their abusers in the family courts.

The proposed Bill is in response to a consultation on domestic abuse that the Government carried out last year.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid said:

“Domestic abuse shatters lives and tears families apart. It can happen anywhere, to anyone. Protecting victims, as well as supporting survivors, is at the heart of our strengthened response to this horrific crime. Our draft Domestic Abuse Bill and wider package of measures, unveiled today, will bolster the protection for victims and will help expose and bring the vile abusers to justice.”

Family Law Cafe welcomes the draft Bill, in particular the provision prohibiting the cross-examination of alleged victims by their alleged abusers in the family courts.

For further information about how you can protect yourself from domestic abuse, see this post. If you would like to know more about protecting yourself from domestic violence and abuse, or if you would like to apply for a court order, Family Law Café can help. To book an initial consultation with us click the green button at the top of this page and fill in the form, or call us on 020 3904 0506.

You can read the Government’s consultation response, including the draft Bill, here.

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In a speech given at the Law School, University of Edinburgh, on 20 March the President of the Family Division Sir James Munby outlined his views on the future of family courts, and reform of family law.

The speech, entitled Changing families: family law yesterday, today and tomorrow – a view from south of the Border, began with an outline of the history of family law in England and Wales since Victorian times. Sir James then moved on to what he called “perhaps the greatest challenge facing the family courts”. This, he said, was the need for family courts to become problem-solving courts, dealing with the underlying issues behind children disputes, rather than just deciding what should happen to the child in future. What was urgently required, he explained, was:

“…a fundamental re-balancing of the family court towards what ought to be its true role as a problem-solving court, engaging the therapeutic and other support systems that so many children and parents need.”

Sir James then concluded his speech “by examining a few of the parts of family law most pressingly in need of statutory reform.” These included the introduction of property rights for cohabitants, no-fault divorce, reform of the law relating to financial remedies on divorce, reform of the rules about access to and reporting of family cases (to counter the charge that we operate a system of secret justice), and giving judges the power to prevent  the cross-examination in person by alleged perpetrators of domestic violence of their alleged victims.

Family Law Cafe welcomes all of these ideas, and hopes that they come to fruition in the near future.

You can read the full speech here.

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Family Law Cafe offers a modern, agile and compassionate approach to family law, giving you a helping hand when you need it and guiding you through the complexities of this difficult and stressful area.

Image of Old College of Edinburgh University by Kim Traynor (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

The Home Office and Ministry of Justice have launched a consultation on domestic abuse, seeking views on measures to be included in the government’s forthcoming draft Domestic Abuse Bill.

The consultation, entitled ‘Transforming the Response to Domestic Abuse’, sets out the government’s proposed reforms to the law on domestic abuse, including:

• Introducing a new statutory definition of domestic abuse including (for example) economic abuse, to ensure that domestic abuse is properly understood.

• Creating a new Domestic Abuse Protection Order, to better shield victims against further abuse by enabling courts to impose a range of conditions on abusers, such as compulsory alcohol treatment and using electronic tagging to monitor them. Breaching the order would be a criminal offence.

•  Putting into law the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, which gives any member of the public the right to ask the police if their partner may pose a risk to them.

• Providing protection for alleged victims of abuse in court, for example by allowing them to give evidence behind a screen or via a video link.

•  Ensuring that sentencing of domestic abuse related offences duly recognises the devastating impact of domestic abuse on victims and any children involved.

Commenting upon the consultation Justice Secretary David Gauke said:

“The damage caused by domestic abuse can last a lifetime. We have a duty not only to support those affected but to prevent others falling victim in future.

“We continue to improve the way domestic abuse is dealt with throughout the justice system, but there is undoubtedly more we can do.

“By proposing to give courts greater powers, from a new protection order to tougher sentences, we are sending a clear message that domestic abuse in any form will not be tolerated.”

The consultation closes on the 31st of May. You can read it here. Family Law Cafe welcomes the consultation, and urges anyone who wishes to contribute their views to do so, here.

If you are the victim of domestic abuse you can find out how you can protect yourself, in this post.

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Family Law Cafe surrounds and supports the customer with both legal and pastoral care, end to end, from top barristers to case workers to therapists and mediators, to help the customer get the best possible result with the minimum stress.

Image: Home Office and Ministry of Justice