Voice of the Child & Culture Change within the Family Court #voiceofthechild (#openfamilycourt)
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IWMM are calling for Prime Minister Theresa May to look at this situation urgently as a justice and public health concern.
How many more lives need to be lost or ruined?
The UK prides itself on its democracy. However, Family Court falls way short of safe accountability and we implore you to implement our 10 recommendations for a fairer justice system in the family division.
Currently, family court proceedings are held in secret: it is our belief anything in secret harbours injustice. There is little or no recourse for errors and orders made are never followed up to ensure they were effective, successful and of paramount importance; in the best interest of the child/ren (Children Act 1989 and 2004).
To highlight the importance of this subject we have identified a series of high profile cases, which did make it into the public arena although only due to tragic circumstances – this has to stop! NOW.
A talk to magistrates by Zoe Dronfield - Talk to Magistrates
Most protective parents survive the process, advocating for their children, holding down jobs, running the household and defending their children’s prospects. It is an understatement that current practice in family proceedings is too much for the average person to endure, simply to handle the system. To comprehend the legal documentation, fulfil statements, meet with unpredictable processes whilst raising children and to know what is at stake is dangerously stressful. Financing is not a universal remedy.
Over the years there have been many attempts at opening the family court however none have been successful. Why? Secrets do not safeguard! Family Division President Sir James Munby, who is due to retire this year, advised in January 2014 that proceedings were to be opened up to scrutiny. This has never happened.
Practice Direction 12J was published in its original form in 2008 in response to the first report of Women’s Aid into Nineteen Child Homicides.
PD12J was substantially revised in April 2014, following the report of Professor Hunter and Adrienne Barnett for the Family Justice Council
Amended again in 2017 following further campaigning this piece of legislation is still not being put into practice inside family court proceedings and we are regularly made aware that processes affecting judgements are minimising the abuse of victims, disregarding this as historic or just completely disregarding altogether.
The best way to evaluate risk of future offending is to look at an offenders’ past and this is something that is considered appropriately in a criminal court. However, family court is worked on a balance of probability and not evidence of patterns of coercive control and abusive behaviours, to the children and a protective parent. Therefore, criminal history is being minimised.
One focus is the courts are downplaying the regular importance of mother-child relationships and the protective parent or grandparent role in situations where domestic abuse is evident. As a result, courts are placing many children in high-risk circumstances, or foster care where they can be alienated from the protective bond rather than resources being better targeted supporting committed families to stay together.
Protective parents and children are effectively being punished for their normal social expectation to report experiences of abuse.
• 80% of UK women are mothers. Women are primary carers in 90% of households.
• 28% of children live in poverty
• There are more children “in care” now than at any time since 1985
• Children from poor areas are 10 times more likely to be taken into care than those in rich areas
• Domestic abuse features in 70-90% of cases in the family courts yet less than 1% of child contact applications are refused – violent and abusive parents who request contact nearly always achieve it!
For example, the term ‘Good enough parenting’ is used to describe the behaviour of an abusive perpetrator applying for unsupervised contact or applying for the removal of a child from their protective parent. And yet, being financially poor or being a coercive control survivor - who provides a home free of abuse - may not be ‘good enough’ for a child to remain with a family where they are wanted, loved and cared for.
Specifically, IWMM are making the following recommendations in the interests of judicial continuity:
Recommendation 1: Open the civil family court to scrutiny and allow an independent third party ombudsman to investigate claims of unjust rulings.
Recommendation 2: Family court to be evidential to include a domestic violence or victim advocate for survivors including child survivors.
Recommendation 3: The Government to ensure that there is independent follow-up after a court ruling to ensure that it was successful. To be measured by improved experiences for the family.
Recommendation 4: The Government to consider linking criminal and family court proceedings for unified working.
Recommendation 5: The Government to consider creating a new Serial Perpetrator Register which can be accessed by family court for history of domestic abuses.
Recommendation 6: The Government and Ministry of Justice to ensure the adherence to clear and consistent procedure for applications brought to the family court.
Recommendation 7: The Government and Ministry of Justice to ensure DBS checks for all applicants and to be properly considered at the initial and closing stages of applications before the family court.
Recommendation 8: Perjury in the family court to be thoroughly investigated and consistently treated as a criminal offence.
Recommendation 9: The Government to consider that gagging orders do not resolve lack of safe transparency and scrutiny. They often silence the victim of injustice.
Recommendation 10: CAFCASS reporters and officials, social workers and other court-appointed experts be held accountable for errors and misleading information.
The updated Practice Direction 12J recommendations call for a culture change. This would properly adhere to the statutory framework for identifying criminal coercive control because this is a key indicator in parental separation and child abuse. We call on the Ministry of Justice for proper oversight of family court agency.
We need your help.
Our campaign #openfamilycourt has already attracted a significant amount of coverage in media and online we now ask you to join us in our quest to have the #voiceofthechild heard - please support us using the above hashtags online.
There are other ways in which you can support the campaign further, which is by writing to your local MP to let them know that this issue is important to you.
Call on your MP to support the campaign by signing the petition and by asking questions in Parliament about why family court is still not open to scrutiny and people’s lives are being ruined unnecessarily.
We know that every personal letter that an MP receives from their constituent makes a big impact.
Not sure who your MP is? Find your MP by entering your postcode on this site
If you are too young to vote please do write to your MP because this issue affects you and your peers, and your MP cares what you think because you are a future voter!
Please let us know if you do write to your MP – we would be extremely grateful or if you need any support with this. You can do this by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by letting us know on twitter @iwantmymummyuk using #openfamilycourt and #voiceofthechild or via our IWMM Facebook page
Thank you for your support!
United we stand!
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