Approach to domestic abuse in child contact cases

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The Court of Appeal has handed down judgment in a ground-breaking case that is expected to inform the way Family Courts treat allegations of domestic abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour.

The Appeal Court was last asked to give general guidance on the approach to domestic abuse in child contact cases. Practice Direction 12J remains fit for purpose – the challenge related to its proper implementation.

The Scott Schedule is a schedule or table used in family court proceedings to set out the allegations in dispute. The Court said there was ‘effective unanimity’ among the dozen oral submissions heard during the appeal ‘that the value of Scott Schedules in domestic abuse cases had declined to the extent that, in the view of some, they were now a potential barrier to fairness and good process, rather than an aid’. The Judges concluded that ‘the process before this court has undoubtedly confirmed the need to move away from using Scott Schedules’.

The Court said it was ‘fundamentally wrong’ for the family court to be drawn into an analysis of factual evidence in proceedings relating to the welfare of children based on criminal law principles and concepts.

The court allowed the appeals in Re B-B, Re T and Re H-N and dismissed the appeal in Re H. The Judges stressed that none of their decisions established ‘new law’.

In concluding remarks, the judges said: ‘Each of these appeals are examples in differing ways of the importance of the modern judiciary having a proper understanding of the nature of domestic abuse and in particular of controlling and coercive behaviour and of its impact on both the victims and the children caught up in the atmosphere engendered in such a household.’

If you require any legal advice and assistance in respect of family law matters please contact a member of our dedicated family law team.

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