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Family lawyers voice concerns over domestic violence review

29 May 2019

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Two family law solicitors have co-ordinated a letter, signed by 37 experts, challenging the extent of the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) recent decision to review how the family courts deal with victims of domestic violence.

Ben Hoare Bell partner Cris McCurley and Beck Fitzgerald director Jenny Beck, along with others including victims commissioner Dame Vera Baird QC, have written to the justice secretary David Guake to say three months is insufficient time for proper scrutiny.

“Twelve weeks is not enough time to properly evaluate the reasons why the system is currently placing children and victims at unacceptable risk. Any inquiry must be independent if justice is to be seen to be done”, the letter said.

The MoJ launched three three-month inquiry into child protection in family courts last week, after more than 120 MPs called for a review on behalf of victims of domestic violence.

In the letter, the 37 signatories, said: “Whilst the government propose to take evidence from various sources, no mention is made of taking evidence from family lawyers who deal with these issues at the coal face, and can provide critical insight into the disparity in application of practice direction 12J in practice; identified by us as a "postcode lottery of protection".

“As lawyers working with this issue, we have significant concerns about the safeguarding of victims of abuse and their children because of the disconnect between the practice directions (particularly 12J), best practice guidelines and what happens in practice in court, on the ground every day across the country.”

The letter raises concerns that “Practice direction 12J is often ignored or ‘nodded through’ without any proper risk assessment, leaving women and children vulnerable.

“Where a fact-finding hearing is listed, the victim is increasingly being told to limit the number of allegations that can be considered by the judge, meaning that there is not a full forensic and expert assessment of the risks.”

The MoJ’s intends to use the results of the inquiry to build on the draft Domestic Abuse Bill, published in January. 

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