In July 2023, Nicole Jacobs, Domestic Abuse Commissioner published her report, The Family Court and domestic abuse: achieving cultural change to government calling for significant reform in the Family Court.
The Domestic Abuse Commissioner report shared the results from the legal practitioner survey. With more than 80%of those surveyed expressing that they felt the Family Court was likely to re-traumatise victims and survivors of domestic abuse.
The sentiment in the legal practitioner survey is reflected in what the Domestic Abuse Commissioner hears for herself from victims and survivors.
On 9th November 2023 the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) responded to this report and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner strongly welcomed their clear shared vision.
Nicole Jacobs, uploaded the following statement:
“It is important however that we do not lose sight of the urgent need for wider reform, outlined in my report, to produce meaningful, long-lasting change for adult and child victims and survivors of domestic abuse.
I strongly welcome the commitment to increase the number of Pathfinder Courts in 2024, one of my key recommendations. These courts take a multi-agency and child-centric approach to domestic abuse, and feedback has shown that cases are being dealt with more sensitively and efficiently than in the traditional Family Court. This will have a hugely positive impact on survivors.
I also feel positive about the government’s wider commitment to strengthening the voice of the child and welcome the opportunity to continue working on this in partnership.
I am delighted that the government has today agreed to provide further funding of £180,000 in 2023/24 for my Family Court Reporting and Review Mechanism (FCRRM) project. Currently embarking on its pilot phase, the FCRRM will grant us unprecedented access to the Family Court in order to collect data on the prevalence of domestic abuse for the first time.
My office’s contribution to the FCRRM will be a critical aspect of the government’s wider transparency project, and I welcome their further commitments today.
However, without all my recommendations being accepted in the round, we cannot guarantee that adult and child survivors will be understood and protected in the Family Court.
I am disappointed that my recommendation to implement a stricter definition of the term ‘psychologist’ has been rejected. Expert witnesses who provide reports and evidence to the court must be appropriately placed to do so. The regulation of experts should be undertaken with professional bodies to achieve this.
I am also disappointed that my recommendation to establish multi-agency Domestic Abuse Best Practice Leads hasn’t been accepted. However, the government’s proposal to introduce a Domestic Abuse Champions network is a step in the right direction, and I look forward to shaping these roles with them. I hope that the Champions network will pave the way for Best Practice Leads.
It is disheartening that my recommendation to remove the legal aid means test for survivors in private family law proceedings hasn’t been accepted. My report highlights how the lack of availability of legal aid leaves many survivors without access to a lawyer during complex and stressful Family Court proceedings.
It is also concerning that the Qualified Legal Representative (QLR) scheme, which provides registered legal practitioners to conduct cross-examination for unrepresented parties, will not be fully funded.
I made two recommendations to improve domestic abuse support and awareness in the Family Court, designed to ensure survivors feel safe throughout the process. These were: specialist domestic abuse support workers for survivors during proceedings; and better funding to train the judiciary.
Sadly, these recommendations have not been accepted, and I worry that this will deepen the lack of domestic abuse expertise and consistency that exists within the Family Court system. I hope the government will consider the need for domestic abuse roles within the Family Court during the passage of the Victims & Prisoners Bill, which presents a key opportunity to shape funding for specialist services.
My report, and that of the government’s Harm Panel, identified significant failings in the Family Court. Significant failings require significant reforms. I look forward to continuing work with government to advance my bold vision for the Family Court and bring about the full transformation that is urgently needed.”