08:50, May 15 151 0 theguardian.com

2019-05-15 08:50:08
MPs call for inquiry into how courts treat rape and abuse victims

More than 120 MPs have called for the family courts to be opened up to greater scrutiny and for those who father children through rape to be denied parental rights.

In a letter to the justice secretary, David Gauke, the MPs are requesting an independent inquiry into the way the family courts in England and Wales treat victims of rape and domestic abuse and their children.

The initiative, coordinated by the shadow policing minister, Louise Haigh, says that in many cases victims are being retraumatised by their abusers in court.

Louise Haigh MP (@LouHaigh)

Over 120 MPs from all parties are backing our campaign to better protect victims of rape & domestic abuse who are being badly let down by the family courts.

Read more here: https://t.co/eJaHRQQ62z@sammywoodhouse1 pic.twitter.com/RCmXjPUORv

May 15, 2019

The letter urges the government to use the domestic abuse bill to introduce a ban on abusers using parental access rights to have contact with children they conceived through rape.

It follows a campaign by Sammy Woodhouse, a survivor of Rotherham’s child exploitation scandal, who has called for a change in the law after revealing the man who raped her as a teenager had been given a chance to play a role in her son’s life.

The letter says the case “has lifted the lid on an injustice at the heart of the system”, adding that a lack of transparency in family courts, while essential to protect privacy, “masks decisions that are made contrary to the interests of victims of domestic abuse, rape and violence or their children”.

Haigh, the MP for Sheffield Heeley, is attempting to introduce the change with her private member’s bill, the parental rights (rapists) and family courts bill.

Labour and Tory MPs have supported her letter to the justice secretary. Under the Children Act 1989 there is no absolute right for any parent to have contact with a child and courts are free to determine what is in the best interests of the child.

Courts have discretion to consider the facts and circumstances of each case, including the actions of the parents, the wishes and feelings of the child and any evidence of risk of harm, and to come to a decision on the facts of each case.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “The family court system should never be used as a way to coerce or revictimise those who have been abused.

“The law places a child’s welfare as the paramount consideration but we continue to work with other relevant departments and stakeholders to consider how we can better protect vulnerable mothers and children in our family courts.”

The domestic abuse bill contains clauses that will outlaw the practice of abusers cross-examining their former victims in court – a promise first made more than two years ago.