Family Courts: Domestic Abuse

Ministry of Justice written question – answered on 6th June 2019.

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Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing)

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what information his Department holds on the proportion of cases where domestic abuse was alleged or proven in initial safeguarding where (a) a Cafcass Early Intervention Team phone call did not take place before a First Hearing and Dispute Resolution Appointment, (b) children were not interviewed and (c) a risk assessment was not completed in the most recent period for which figures are available.

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing)

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what information his Department holds on the proportion of cases where domestic abuse was alleged or proven in family court proceedings where (a) a Finding of Fact hearing was not part of proceeding, (b) contact was not recommended but was ordered, (c) Cafcass vetoed a court order on safeguarding grounds, (d) no contact was ordered, (e) domestic abuse was found and some form of contact was ordered in the most recent period for which figures are available.

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing)

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what information his Department holds on cases where domestic abuse was alleged or proven in return hearings in the family court on the proportion of cases (a) returning on safeguarding grounds and (b) judges used their powers to prevent a party bringing the case back to court to prevent abuse in the most recent period for which figures are available.

Photo of Paul Maynard Paul Maynard The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

Cafcass undertakes safeguarding checks in every case where an application is made to the court for a child arrangements order and reports relevant information to the court in a safeguarding letter prior to the first hearing. As part of that process, Cafcass will attempt to contact each party separately by telephone to elicit any concerns about any risks of harm, either to the child or to an adult party. Cafcass conducts checks of police records and makes enquiries of the local authority and will include in its safeguarding letter any relevant convictions or cautions or prior local authority involvement.

Cafcass undertakes direct work with the child when directed to do so by the court, in cases that continue after the first hearing. This includes interviewing children in order to ascertain their wishes and feelings to produce a section 7 welfare report into the child’s welfare needs. Any information disclosed by the child about domestic or other abuse will be reported to the court. In 2018-19 Cafcass produced 19,236 s7 welfare reports.

Cafcass does not record data on the contents of individual safeguarding letters. However, a file analysis of 216 private law cases undertaken in 2017 found that domestic abuse was alleged in 62% of cases. Practice Direction 12J sets out the factors the court must consider when domestic abuse is raised within the proceedings, including whether a fact-finding hearing should be held. Data is not collected centrally on the number of fact finding hearings and could only be obtained through an analysis of case files at disproportionate cost. Whether or not domestic abuse is alleged or admitted by either party, Cafcass has a statutory duty to report to the court at any stage in the proceedings any concerns it has about the risk of harm to the child.

Data is not available on specific recommendations made by Cafcass to the court about child arrangements in individual cases nor on the detailed content of any child arrangements order subsequently made by the court. Such information could only be obtained from a case file analysis at disproportionate cost.

Data is not collected on the use by the court of its power under section 91(14) of the Children Act 1989 to prevent a named person from applying from a specified kind of order without its permission. Such provision may form part of a child arrangements or other order under made under the 1989 Act.

The Government is determined to improve the family justice response to vulnerable people, including victims of domestic abuse. We are committed to giving the family courts the power to stop unrepresented perpetrators of abuse from cross-examining their victims in person in family proceedings, and we have included measures to prevent this in the draft Domestic Abuse Bill.

On 21 May we also announced the establishment of a panel of experts to consider how the family courts protect children and parents in cases of domestic abuse and other serious offences.

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