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MoJ pledges overhaul to help domestic abuse victims

A major overhaul of support for survivors of domestic abuse has been announced by the government.

It followed a review by an expert panel for the Ministry of Justice that warned of inadequate resources and a lack of communication between courts.

The aim is reduce the opportunity for perpetrators to use the court system to continue access and control of victims.

For teams working on domestic violence cases and child protection teams, the changes shouldn't interfere with getting more people to continue with cases to court. But the processes for gathering evidence and disclosure are likely to change.

As part of the overhaul, the MoJ has started a pilot project of a combined domestic abuse court that hears family and criminal matters in parallel.

The changes have been prompted by findings from the expert panel that found the Family Court was being used by abusive parents to manipulate access to children to continue controlling behaviour.

Estimates indicate domestic abuse played a part in between 49 per cent and 62 per cent of a sample of cases launched to establish arrangements for, or contact with, children.

The panel found under-resourced courts faced with long-term systemic issues had been unable to deal with allegations thoroughly.

The offence of coercive control became an offence in 2015 but abusers are now using weaknesses in the court system to their advantage.

The report said: "Submissions highlighted a feeling that abuse is systematically minimised, ranging from children's voices not being heard, allegations being ignored, dismissed or disbelieved, to inadequate assessment of risk, traumatic court processes, perceived unsafe child arrangements and abusers exercising continued control through repeat litigation and the threat of repeat litigation."

The result was that perpetrators were being granted orders allowing them "frequently unrestricted" contact with children and "usually without requiring an alleged abuser to address their behaviour".

Among the changes are proposals to give separate court entrances to victims and screens to be used to ensure they do not see the the accused.

Justice minister Alex Chalk said: "This report lays bare many hard truths about long-standing failings, but we are determined to drive the fundamental change necessary to keep victims and their children safe."

Campaigners said the government would have to back words with action.

Panel member Nicki Norman, Acting Chief Executive at Women's Aid, said: “This report marks a major step forward in exposing what women and children experiencing domestic abuse have been telling us for decades.

“The culture of disbelief identified by the panel is a barrier to courts making safe child contact arrangements in cases of domestic abuse. This welcome report must now deliver change.”

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