What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of the service provided by family courts to survivors of rape and domestic abuse and their children.
We are determined to improve the family justice response to vulnerable parents and children, including victims of rape and domestic abuse. An expert panel has been established to help us better to understand victims’ experiences in the family courts, and we will hold a public call for evidence to build a more detailed picture of any harm caused during or following proceedings.
One of the most senior family court judges has described it as “shaming” to preside over so many cases where individuals are being forced to represent themselves because of the impact of legal aid cuts, especially as we should be minimising harm to children of victims of domestic violence. This really should be a central concern of our justice system. Is the Minister shamed by the effects of his Government’s policy?
What we are seeking to do with the panel that we have set up is make sure that we reappraise the incremental changes that have occurred over time and understand how that has impacted on practice in the courts. I am very keen to see what the panel has to say. It is independent, and I am not trying to pre-judge its outcomes at all, but I hope that it comes up with a series of short-term changes that we can make immediately. Areas of further work may be required.
I wrote to the Minister requesting the removal of automatic entitlement to joint assets from those guilty of attempting to murder their spouse. In his response, he expressed concern that to do so may punish the offender twice. But that is exactly what is happening to the victim: they are subject first to attempted murder and then to continued abuse through the courts and the potential loss of their home. The victims’ rights must always come first. Does he support the removal of the presumption of entitlement to joint assets in these cases?
I do understand the points that the hon. Lady makes. I am glad that she read my reply carefully, and I understand why it might concern her. Part of the objective of this panel is to make sure that we look across the wide spectrum of practice in the family justice system. I have heard the points that she has made and I am sure that the panel will have, too. I look forward to seeing what advice the panel has.