The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 came into force exactly one year ago but victims of domestic abuse in England and Wales are still having to navigate a “broken” justice system so how can survivors of domestic abuse get through the family courts more easily?
The hurdles the survivors of domestic abuse face not only include under-resourced courts, a massive backlog of cases not to mention cancellations, delays and postponements. They also include the difficulties in making sure they have the right representation, dealing with Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service and even facing undue scrutiny as a parent.
Worryingly, there are still multiple reports of survivors simply not being believed or, worse, being brought to court by their abusers as punishment for challenging them.
New advice and support for the survivors of domestic abuse
The good news is Rima Hussein (a Senior Lecturer in organisation studies, Northumbria University, Newcastle) and Imane El Hakimi (a Senior Lecturer in Leadership and Human Resource Management, Northumbria University, Newcastle) have partnered with the UK Ministry of Justice, support services including Cardiff Women’s Aid and Support Through Court and survivors.
They have received funds to create vlogs they hope will help survivors of domestic abuse get through the family courts more easily and although the vlogs are yet to launch, they have summarised their advice into the following steps:
1. Prepare yourself for …
The fact you’ll need to relive traumatic experiences. This will lead to additional stresses especially if you are told, for example, the court didn’t receive your statement.
They stress there is nothing you can do to change bad organisation, but you can control how you react to it, including factoring in some recovery time after a hearing to process what has happened.
2. Get support in place by …
Writing a list of the people to whom you can turn for support on hard days and conversely, fence yourself off from anyone who enables your abuser or has a negative effect on you.
3. Gather evidence from …
Any professionals even if they’re working in different departments or branches within social services or across organisations who don’t have clear communication channels between them (e.g. GPs, teachers, social workers). Log all incidents of abuse with the police and keep a record of everything as you will need everything in court.
4. Know your rights …
Misogyny and victim-blaming are reportedly still rife in England and Wales’ court culture. Make sure you read the government’s welfare checklist, which is used to make decisions about children, and Practice Direction 12J which sets out what the court should do to protect you as a victim of domestic abuse.
5. Ask for special measures such as …
Permission to enter the court through a separate court entrance or leave first after a hearing. You can also ask the court for permission to make sure you have the same support worker throughout your case and for them to be with you during every stage of the proceedings.
You should also familiarise yourself with the guidance for remote hearings as they are different and can create additional stress should you need to face or be cross-examined by your abuser via video.
The specialist barristers in our Family Law team have extensive experience of representing victims of domestic abuse at every stage of the justice process. If you would like their advice and support, please contact us today.