How should the Family Court treat allegations of domestic abuse?

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In a landmark case, the Court of Appeal heard from lawyers how the Family Court should treat allegations of domestic abuse. The appeal court’s ruling is likely to have far-reaching implications.

The Family Justice system were given the opportunity to inform the Court of Appeal as to how people should be treated during the court process when involving allegations of domestic abuse. This also includes coercive and controlling behaviours. Coercive and controlling behaviours is now a criminal offence. It is an act designed to make you feel subordinate or dependent on your partner.

The last time that input was provided in this way was almost 2 decades ago when the Practice Direction 12J was subsequently issued. This Practice Direction sets out what the Family Courts are expected to do in cases involving domestic abuse. It has been felt that there has been a need for there to be a review of the directions previously provided in line with how the law in this area has developed.

There have been issues raised with regards to the Scott Schedule. A Scott Schedule is a schedule or table which is used in court proceedings in the Family Court in order to clearly set out the allegations which are in dispute. The Judge will make directions for parties to submit a Scott Schedule, where necessary, and this will generally be required in advance of a fact-finding hearing.

It has been felt that this document may not be fit for purpose, the Court is required to consider and analyse a whole series of matters in respect of behaviours. This is due to the changes of the law now including coercive and controlling behaviours as a form of domestic abuse, when a pattern of behaviour is very important.

‘Barbara Mills QC, representing pressure groups Rights of Women, Women’s Aid, Welsh Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis England and Wales, said language is important when dealing with domestic abuse allegations. The phrase ‘lived experience’ would be preferable to words such as ‘story’ or ‘narrative’, which imply an element of fiction, she said.’

This matter is to be further considered and it may be that changes are made with regards to how these types of matters should be dealt with. If you have any family law issue then please do not hesitate to contact one of our dedicated family solicitors who will be happy to assist.

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