The Harm Report – key points to consider
The Ministry of Justice ordered a report to be undertaken about how effectively the Courts identify/respond to allegations of domestic abuse in private law children proceedings. The report ‘Assessing Risk of Harm to Children and Parents in Private Law Children Cases’ was published last year and is widely referred to as ‘The Harm Report’.
Practice Direction 12J governs the Courts on how to deal with cases whereby allegations of domestic abuse, child abuse and serious offences have been raised. The report has highlighted the inconsistencies between courts when considering this practice direction and the disadvantages this may have for alleged victims (and the children). Legal representatives need to be live to this issue and the other problems the harm report identifies when helping clients who are victims or even the alleged perpetrator.
The Harm Report raised the following issues, which will hopefully, in time, be addressed by the necessary bodies. In the meantime, those dealing which such cases need to be wary of the following:
- The pro-contact culture.
- The report says that many feel that domestic abuse allegations are minimised as the courts focus is on ensuring the child(ren) spend time with both parents.
- The need to be live to the possibility of parental alienation, but also live to the possibility that alleged perpetrators are hiding behind this and alleging alienation when not true, as the abuse has taken place.
- Co-parenting is still encouraged despite allegations being raised (and even found to have taken place). It can be the responsibility of the victim to liaise with their perpetrator.
- When allegations have been proven, there is often no onus on the alleged perpetrator to acknowledge the harm caused or try and change before contact takes place.
- Adversarial system.
- The risk that there is not a level playing field for the victim and that the voice of the child(ren) is not always considered.
- Further thought needs to be given regarding the giving of evidence and ensuring that this is safe.
- The courts need to understand that there is no ‘ideal’ victim and if a party is not acting as they think they should, this does not mean abuse has not taken place.
- Resource limitations.
- More and more parties are attending court in person.
- Agencies do not always have the resources to fully investigate.
- Courts working in silo.
- The issue that there is little or no coordination between other organisations working with the family.
Where abuse has taken place, no one should be put off from raising allegations, especially with the above having been brought to light. A change is coming and it is starting from the inside, with legal representatives and Judges being privy to the above knowledge and ensuring that they are taken into consideration.
At Barnes Clark Family Law, our solicitors specialise private family law, including private children matters. We will assist you in any way we can. To book a free half an hour consultation with us, please call 01274 861096 / 01423 637272 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.