The review asks a range of questions (you can see a preview here) specifically focused on how family courts deal with allegations of abuse, use of repeated returns to court as a form of abuse, etc. We wrote twice to Paul Maynard MP, who, until the recent reshuffle was the relevant minister, querying the gender imbalance on the Review Panel which would also have determined the terms of reference for this exercise. The minister replied with a range of inadequate explanations and excuses for not including us or any other organisations who represent men as well. Gender discrimination is illegal. Yet the Panel had 10 women on it and one man. It included a representative of Women's Aid, but not one representative of an organisation focused on fathers or men. Since then the Ministry of Justice announced two additional people, one woman who is the Chief Executive of Welsh Women's Aid and a man who is a director at Respect, an organisation that subscribes to a very gendered view of domestic abuse. We were and, having seen the questions, remain concerned that in maintaining such a narrow focus of questions, the Review is likely to pre-determine the outcome, resulting in bias in its findings. We find it hard to see how this review can possibly conclude anything other than that there is a need for further independent research BEFORE recommending any action. The reason for this is that the 'evidence' from all individuals making submissions will inevitably always be one-sided. It is unlikely to focus on findings of fact made by courts, abusive behaviour by the authors of responses, etc. It will not be informed by facts as to the nature of allegations made by each party, their relevance or the sometimes complex mutually abusive dynamics of specific relationships. Above all it will not be based on tested facts. It will in effect provide the MoJ with hundreds of untested anecdotal stories which on their own won't tell anyone very much and are likely to be misleading if they are assumed to be the truth. However, if the MoJ are to rely on "trial by outcry", it is important that as many views are received as possible so please ACT NOW and HAVE YOUR SAY!.
If you are happy for us to consider using your information in anonymised case studies please forward a copy of your submission to us at email@example.com. We will not publish nor share your name or other identifying details without your explicit permission. Please let us know also whether you are or are not willing to spaek to the media, should we receive future enquiries.
Does this apply to you?
We note that the press release announcing this call for evidence states 'Domestic abuse survivors invited to shape future of family court'. The language is essentially that of women's rights organisations. Please don't forget that if you or your children have been subject to domestic violence, assault, undermining behaviour, alienating behaviours, false allegations to authorities, unjustified contact denial, threats not to see your children, financial or other threats, non-compliance with child arrangement orders, unjustified exclusion from a birth certificate and other forms of cosercive behaviour, these are all forms of abuse that under the official definition (allegedly!) include you as "survivors" or "victims" as they like to call them.
Some topics we suggest you consider for inclusion in your response if they affected you:
1) If you or your children suffered or were suffering abuse, did the court listen to your complaints and act to protect you and your children?
2) Did allegations of abuse delay your case, were there extra hearings, how many and how much delay did this cause. How much did it cost you financially? What about emotionally? What ddid it do to your mental health?
3) Was contact with your children stopped, or did you have to go into a contact centre. For how long?
4) Was there a finding of fact hearing and did you feel you were fairly listened to?
5) If the allegations were false or not proven, was there any consequence for the parent who made the false allegations?
6) Did you have to pay legal fees to defend yourself, if so how much? Did the other party get legal aid?
7) Did the court impose a section 91(14) barring order and have they used that to prevent you making legitimate and necessary applications to court, or allowed your ex to make applications to court which were malicious or frivolous?
The panel consists of 2 representatives of Women's Aid, who assist women. If you are a male victim of domestic abuse and feel that these organisations cannot represent you as a victim, please make this clear to the panel.
Practice Direction 12J (PD12J) consistently states that the court must act to protect the child and the parent the child is living with from risk of harm. This does not address protection of a child who is living with an abusive parent. If you have been in a situation where your child was living with an abusive parent and the court failed to protect your child, you may wish to point out the court's failure to act to protect your child.
- Mr. Justice Stephen Cobb - ex-trustee at Gingerbread who recently re-drafted Practice Direction 12J and tried to remove the presumption of the involvement of both parents added in the Children and Families Act 2014 and now wants to abolish form C79 used to enforce Child Arrangements Orders as he seems to think most applications for enforcement actually want a variation instead! We suggest: If it needs fixing, fix it, don't break it more!"
- Prof Rosemary Hunter - feminist academic and one of the founding members of the "feminist judgements" project.
- Nicki Norman, Acting Co-Chief Executive, Women’s Aid, and organisation which claims the vast majority of victims of domestic abuse are women and who are deliberately "targeting" the family courts in their campaigns.
- Eleri Butler, Chief Executive, Welsh Women’s Aid, another organisation who believe the vast majority of victims of domestic abuse (or the only ones that matter, perhaps) are women.
- Neil Blacklock, Development Director, Respect, an organisation who provide accreditation for courses for male perpetrators of domestic abuse, but do not appear to accredit courses for female perpetrators.
Further reading - Feelings and Dogma cannot set the agenda in Family Justice
Folloiwing the Victoria Derbyshire Show that was a launch platform for the campaign for this Review, self-styled feminist barrister, Dr Charlotter Proudman, wrote a Guest Blog for the Transparency Project - A view from the front row, to further explain her position. A FNF response to this was published by Child Protection Resource under the heading Feelings and Dogam Cannot Set the Agenda in Family Justice. We are grateful to being given this opportunity to respond. Please feel free to add your comments to both blogs.
It is also worth reading the response to the review by Sarah Phillimore on the Child Protection Resource website. We will prepare an FNF official response in the coming days.