12:26, January 10 238 0 theguardian.com

2020-01-10 12:26:03
Understanding family justice and protecting the victims of abuse

Louise Tickle falls into the error of generalising from two particular examples of the family justice system going wrong (Judges in secret family courts are still failing victims of rape, 6 January). But she does, unwittingly, highlight another problem: the dearth of research data about the decision-making of family judges in disputed fact cases.

As a family judge, I often found that men had behaved coercively, using contact with the children as a means of controlling their former partners. This was abusive not just to the women, but to the children too. In such cases I often restricted contact, requiring it to be supervised, or forbade it altogether, until the men had convincingly addressed this particularly insidious form of domestic violence. Before they could resume their relationship with their children, I looked for acknowledgement by them of the problem, remorse, and practical steps to remedy their attitudes.

From nearly 30 years’ experience as a judge, I am sure that the large majority of my colleagues, many of whom were women, adopted the same approach.

If we are to restore confidence in the family justice system, we need better-researched comment from journalists, and a system that provides them with the information to form sounder judgments.

His Honour Glenn Brasse

Former circuit judge, central family court

The scenario Louise Tickle describes, in which “an abusive ex can easily continue their controlling behaviour throughout many years of court-ordered contact with a child”, seems to have been enabled since David Cameron changed the law to give more rights to fathers instead of the presumption of primary maternal custody.

As Tickle says, even where judges agree that domestic abuse has occurred, they may not consider it serious enough to protect the victim and children from its continuing effects. What may not be widely understood is that it is often abusers who take their ex-partners to court in the first place, while couples who part on amicable terms usually make their own arrangements.

It may also be worse than Tickle suggests because for various reasons (including unsuitably qualified solicitors or a perceived lack of evidence) judges may not even take account of an established pattern of controlling behaviour.

Family courts are simply not geared towards properly addressing these issues and one may question whether the welfare of women and children is ever the priority of a Conservative government.

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