It is a sad fact that many parents become involved in a seemingly never-ending series of court applications regarding arrangements for their children.

A typical scenario might go like this:

The parents are at loggerheads over who the children should live with. Unable to agree, they take the matter to court. The court finds in favour of one of the parents.

Unhappy at this, the other parent takes the matter back to the court, in an apparent attempt to get the court to change its mind. The court does not change its mind, so after a brief interval that parent tries again. And again.

This sort of situation can literally go on for years, with an aggrieved parent taking the case back to the court multiple times. Needless to say, such repeated applications can take an enormous toll on both the parents and the children, to say nothing of the effect upon court resources.

But the court has a way to put a stop to such a scenario: the barring order.

Normally, anyone is free to make whatever application to the court that they wish. However, a barring order restricts that freedom, by saying that a parent cannot make any further applications in relation to their children for a certain period of time, without first obtaining the court’s permission.

The court is unlikely to give permission unless there has been a change in circumstances since the last application.

Barring orders may be made upon the application of one party, or of the court’s own motion.

Until now, barring orders have usually been made in order to protect the children from the effects of repeated applications, by giving them a period of respite.

But new guidance for the courts is giving a different emphasis to barring orders.

The guidance recognises that sometimes the parent making repeated applications is only, or partly, doing so as a means of harassing or controlling the other parent. Unfortunately, all experienced family lawyers will have witnessed this behaviour.

The guidance therefore makes it clear that barring orders may be made not only to protect the child but also to protect the other parent from conduct amounting to harassment, or coercive/controlling behaviour.

The guidance also states that in proceedings in which domestic abuse is alleged or proven, or in which there are allegations or evidence of other harm to a child or other individual, the court should give early and ongoing consideration to whether it would be appropriate to make a barring order at the conclusion of the case, even if an application for such an order has not been made.

To emphasise this the guidance states that children applications “should not be used as a means of harassment or coercive control, or further abuse against a victim of domestic abuse or other person, and the court should therefore give due consideration to whether a future application would have such an impact.”

It is to be hoped that this new guidance will help protect parents from the stress of repeated meritless applications, made with the intention of harassing or controlling them.

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For the last month people everywhere have been engrossed in the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard defamation trial, as the two Hollywood stars have played out their private lives in front of the world’s media.

But whilst the trial may have fed the public’s hunger for salacious details of the lives of the rich and famous, there are serious lessons to be learned.

One such lesson comes from the allegations against Amber Heard. The issue between Depp and Heard began with the suggestion that Heard had been the victim of abuse at the hands of Depp. However, in the course of the trial allegations have been made suggesting that Heard may have herself been an abuser in the relationship.

Now, we do not wish to make any comment upon the truth of the allegations by either party – that is of course for the court to decide – but the fact that Heard may or may not have been the ‘innocent’ victim of abuse does illustrate that not all abuse victims are ‘perfect’.

When abuse occurs in a household it is of course quite possible that both parties may behave in an abusive manner, to a greater or lesser extent. A victim may, for example, respond by themselves being abusive towards their abuser, whether orally or physically. But that does not necessarily mean that they are no longer a victim.

However, the knowledge that their abuser may make counter-allegations against them in court, some of which may be true, could of course deter a victim of abuse from seeking the protection of the law, because they believe that the court will not help them if allegations against them are found to be true.

But a victim should not be deterred. If they need protection, they should seek it – no one should suffer abuse, whatever the situation. The court will understand that not all abuse victims are themselves entirely ‘innocent’, and will still offer its protection to an ‘imperfect victim’.

A victim of domestic abuse can ask a family court for whatever protection they need, including a ‘non-molestation’ order prohibiting their abuser from molesting or harassing them, and an ‘occupation’ order, which could, for example, require the abuser to leave the family home.

If you are a victim of domestic abuse it is essential that you are not put off from seeking the protection of the court. You should seek expert legal advice, at the earliest possible stage. We can find you an expert that works with you on our digital platform. For more information, call us on 020 3904 0506, or click here, and fill in the form.

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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. Family Law Cafe is your start-point for getting matters sorted with strategy, support and security.

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A global study of intimate partner violence by men against women has found that more than a quarter of all women and girls under 50 who have been in a partnership with a man have experienced domestic abuse.

The study, published yesterday in the medical journal The Lancet, analysed a database of 366 studies on the subject conducted between 2000 and 2018, capturing the responses of 2 million women from 161 countries and areas, covering 90% of the global population of women and girls.

The study found that of all women and girls aged between 15 and 49 who have had a partnership with a man, 27% have experienced physical or sexual intimate partner violence in their lifetime, with 13% experiencing it in the past year before they were surveyed.

The study also found that violence starts early, affecting adolescent girls and young women, with 24% of women aged 15–19 years and 26% of women aged 19–24 years having already experienced this violence at least once since the age of 15 years.

And researchers pointed out that all estimates in the study are based on women’s self-reported experiences of being subjected to intimate partner violence. They say that given the sensitive nature of the issue, the true prevalence of physical or sexual, or both, intimate partner violence is likely to be higher.

The study did say that regional variations exist, with low-income countries reporting higher lifetime and, even more pronouncedly, higher past year prevalence, compared with high-income countries.

The study states: “These findings show that intimate partner violence against women was already highly prevalent across the globe before the COVID-19 pandemic. Governments are not on track to meet … targets on the elimination of violence against women and girls, despite robust evidence that intimate partner violence can be prevented. There is an urgent need to invest in effective multisectoral interventions, strengthen the public health response to intimate partner violence, and ensure it is addressed in post-COVID-19 reconstruction efforts.”

If you are a victim of domestic abuse it is essential that you seek expert legal advice, at the earliest possible stage. We can find you an expert that works with you on our digital platform. For more information, call us on 020 3904 0506, or click here, and fill in the form.

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In an important judgment the Court of Appeal has authorised the identification of a father, a former Tory MP and Minister in Theresa May’s government, who was found to have subjected the mother to domestic abuse, including rape and coercive control.

The findings had been made by the Family Court at Derby in November 2020. The father had applied to the court for an order that he spend time with his child, who was born in 2018. The mother, who is now herself an MP, made various allegations of abuse against the father.

The judge made the findings at a fact-finding hearing, but decided that they should not be made public, in order to protect the child. The father did not seek to appeal against the findings.

Two journalists applied for the publication of the fact-finding judgment, including the names of the parties. Their application was supported by, amongst others, the mother and the child’s Guardian. The father accepted that the judgment could be published, but argued that the interests of the child made it necessary that he, the mother, and the child should all be anonymised.

The High Court found that the child was unlikely to be affected by the publication, in view of its young age, and the father’s behaviour itself would have a greater impact upon the child’s relationship with the father than the publication. Accordingly, the High Court ordered that the publication could go ahead.

The father appealed, to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal held that the High Court was correct and dismissed the appeal, thereby authorising the publication of the judgment, including the names of the parties.

The decision has been generally welcomed, as very few such judgments are published, and it is hoped that the publication of this judgment will help to show the public how the Family Court deals with domestic abuse allegations, and thereby improve confidence in the system, which in turn might encourage victims of domestic abuse to come forward to the courts.

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Almost every unresolved dispute between parents over arrangements for children is referred to the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (‘Cafcass’), which looks after the interests of children involved in family proceedings. Cafcass will investigate the case and report back to the court, usually with a recommendation as to what orders the court should make.

And sadly in many of those cases there are issues regarding alleged domestic abuse. For example, where a father is seeking contact with his children the mother may allege that the father has been abusive towards her. Such cases must, of course, be very carefully handled by all involved, including Cafcass.

Last year the Ministry of Justice set up an expert panel to look into how the family courts protect children and parents in private law children cases concerning domestic abuse and other serious offences. The panel made a number of serious findings in relation to both the processes and the outcomes for parties and children involved in such proceedings.

In response to those findings Cafcass has published an improvement plan which provides key priorities to strengthen its practice with children and families who have experienced domestic abuse, being clearer about how they explain their decisions to them, and improving the effectiveness of their management oversight.

Cafcass Chief Executive Jacky Tiotto said:

“We are committed, alongside other agencies in the family justice system, to improving all of our work with children and families who have experienced domestic abuse. It’s been so important to build on what we heard from the Ministry of Justice’s Expert Panel on Harm, and our own subsequent work to review and understand the quality of our practice and improvements that we need and want to make. We hope that the learning from our listening over the last year is explicit in our improvement plan and our wider learning and development programme. Children and families who experience our support and help deserve the very best from us and we want to offer advice to the family court that promotes the best interests of children and secures their safety.”

Hopefully, the plan will mean will mean a better service for all children and families who have experienced the scourge of domestic abuse.

Obviously, domestic abuse is a very serious issue in cases concerning children, and can have a significant bearing upon the outcome. Whether you are the victim or the alleged abuser you should therefore seek expert legal advice, at the earliest stage. We can find you an expert that works with you on our digital platform. For more information, call us on 020 3904 0506, or click here, and fill in the form.

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Family Law Café 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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The landmark Domestic Abuse Bill, which we have mentioned here previously, has at last passed through both Houses of Parliament and been signed into law as an Act of Parliament.

The Act includes a raft of provisions designed to raise awareness of domestic abuse, and better protect victims.

To recap, the Act’s provisions include:

1. The first statutory definition of domestic abuse, incorporating a range of abuses beyond physical violence, including emotional, coercive or controlling behaviour, and economic abuse.  

2. New protections for victims of abuse, including Domestic Abuse Protection Notices, which can be given by the police to provide victims with immediate protection from abusers, and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders, which courts can make to help prevent offending by forcing perpetrators to take steps to change their behaviour, including seeking mental health support or drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

3. The establishment of the office of Domestic Abuse Commissioner, who will oversee the provision of domestic abuse services in England and Wales.

4. New protections and support for victims ensuring that abusers will no longer be allowed to directly cross-examine their victims in the family and civil courts, and giving victims better access to special measures in the courtroom to help prevent intimidation – such as protective screens and giving evidence via video link.

5. A provision placing a duty on local authorities in England to provide support to victims of domestic abuse and their children in refuges and other safe accommodation.

Commenting upon the passing of the Act   Safeguarding Minister Victoria Atkins said: 

“This law will fundamentally transform our response to tackling domestic abuse by providing much greater protections from all forms of abuse.”

And Claire Throssell MBE, Survivor Ambassador for the domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid, said:

“As a survivor and domestic abuse campaigner, the new act is a chance to make sure survivors are safe, protected and loved. The vital changes to the family court are long overdue and everyone accessing them deserves better. It is high time the family courts are safe and supportive, protecting victims and survivors instead of shielding perpetrators.”

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If you are a victim of domestic abuse you should seek expert legal advice, at the earliest stage. We can find you an expert that works with you on our digital platform. For more information, call us on 020 3904 0506, or click here, and fill in the form.

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The Court of Appeal has given guidance upon the approach that the Family Court should take to allegations of domestic abuse when dealing with disputes between parents over arrangements for their children.

As we mentioned here in this post, the court was hearing four linked appeals by mothers involved in proceedings relating to their children, in which the mothers had raised issues of domestic abuse.

As the Court of Appeal pointed out, allegations of abuse are often made by one or both parents in children cases. In fact, it is estimated that at least 40% of such cases now involve allegations of domestic abuse.

When allegations are made, the court must decide, usually at an initial ‘fact-finding’ hearing, whether they are true and what effect, if any, they should have upon the arrangements for the children.

This can obviously be a difficult task, balancing on one hand the safety and welfare of the child, and on the other hand the ‘right’ of the child and parent to have a continued and full relationship.

The guidance given by the Court of Appeal focussed primarily upon the issue of coercive and controlling behaviour.

Coercive and controlling behaviour involves one party seeking to restrict the other, over a period of time. It can take many forms, such as the abuser preventing the other party from spending time with their family and friends, or controlling them by restricting their access to money.

Emphasising the importance of such behaviour, the Court of Appeal said that the courts should prioritise consideration of whether a pattern of coercive and/or controlling behaviour is established, over and above the determination of any specific factual allegations.

The Court of Appeal stated that where one or both parents assert that a pattern of coercive and/or controlling behaviour existed, that assertion should be the primary issue for determination at the fact-finding hearing. Any other, more specific, factual allegations should be considered because of their potential relevance to the alleged pattern of behaviour, and not otherwise, unless any particular factual allegation (such as an allegation of rape) was so serious that it justified determination irrespective of any alleged pattern of coercive and/or controlling behaviour.

The guidance was welcomed by Lucy Hadley of the domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid, although she expressed concern that it did not go far enough, saying:

“…we are severely disappointed that the Court of Appeal did not call for an end to the ‘contact at all costs’ approach, which is putting women and children experiencing domestic abuse in danger … We fear this judgment has not recognised the urgent need for wholesale reform to make the family courts safe for survivors. We will continue to fight for a change to the presumption of parental involvement in domestic abuse cases – for good.”

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If you are a victim of domestic abuse you should seek expert legal advice, at the earliest stage. We can find you an expert that works with you on our digital platform. For more information, call us on 020 3904 0506, or click here, and fill in the form.

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The Government has added some important new laws to its forthcoming Domestic Abuse Bill, designed to further protect victims of abuse and ‘clamp down’ on perpetrators.

The laws include making non-fatal strangulation a specific criminal offence, punishable by up to five years in prison. The Government says that this act “typically involves an abuser strangling or intentionally affecting their victim’s breathing in an attempt to control or intimidate them.” This is certainly something that many victims of domestic abuse complain of.

The announcement of the new offence follows concerns that perpetrators were avoiding punishment as the practice can often leave no visible injury, making it harder to prosecute under existing offences such as Actual Bodily Harm.

Another change is that the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour will be extended to include abuse where perpetrators and victims no longer live together. This change follows a Government review which highlighted that those who leave abusive ex-partners can often be subjected to sustained or increased controlling or coercive behaviour post-separation.

Lastly, so-called ‘revenge porn’ laws will be widened to include threats to disclose intimate images with the intention to cause distress. Those who threaten to share such images will face up to two years in prison.

The reforms have been welcomed by interested parties.

Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs OBE, Founder & CEO of the charity Surviving Economic Abuse said:

“We’re absolutely delighted the government is criminalising post-separation abuse via an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill.

“By doing so, victims will receive the recognition they need and deserve. Post-separation abuse is a devastating form of coercive control and the economic abuse elements of this can continue for decades.”

And Hetti Barkworth-Nanton, chair of the domestic abuse charity Refuge said:

“This is a significant moment for women experiencing domestic abuse who have been threatened with the sharing of their private intimate images and we are thrilled that the government has recognised the need for urgent change. Our research found that 1 in 7 young women have experienced these threats to share, with the overwhelming majority experiencing them from a current or former partner, alongside other forms of abuse.”

The Bill is in the final stages of its passage through Parliament, and it should not now be long before it becomes law.

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If you are a victim of domestic abuse you should seek expert legal advice, at the earliest stage. We can find you an expert that works with you on our digital platform. For more 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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It is sadly not uncommon for issues of alleged domestic abuse to be raised in applications relating to arrangements for children. For example, a father may apply to the court for contact, only to have the mother oppose the application on the basis of allegations that he had been ‘guilty’ of domestic abuse.

Obviously, the court must investigate the allegations, and decide whether they have a bearing on the issue of contact. But it is a fine line to tread: on the one hand, such allegations must be taken seriously, on the other hand the court must not allow false or exaggerated allegations to interfere with the child’s relationship with (in the above case) their father.

The question of how the family court should approach domestic abuse in cases involving arrangements for children is currently being considered by the Court of Appeal.

Last week the Court of Appeal heard four linked appeals by mothers involved in proceedings relating to their children, in which the mothers had raised issues of domestic abuse. All four mothers raised concerns about how the court below had approached those issues.

As the four cases raised similar questions, it was decided that the Court of Appeal should hear them together.

The hearing has now ended, and the Court of Appeal is expected to hand down its judgment in the next few weeks. If it considers it necessary, it may also provide further guidance upon how the courts should approach the issue of domestic abuse in cases involving children.

There is already guidance that the courts should follow. This requires the court to consider at all stages in children proceedings whether domestic abuse is an issue, and if it is to investigate the matter at the earliest opportunity, and decide what effect, if any, it should have upon arrangements for the children.

However, there are some who believe that the guidance is not being followed, or that it does not go far enough.

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Domestic abuse is obviously a very serious issue in cases relating to children, which can have a significant bearing upon the outcome of the case. Accordingly, whether you are the victim or the alleged abuser you should seek expert legal advice, at the earliest stage. We can find you an expert that works with you on our digital platform. For more information, call us on 020 3904 0506, or click here, and fill in the form.

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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. Family Law Cafe is your start-point for getting matters sorted with strategy, support and security.

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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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