Resolution to strengthen the Family Law Act’s protection for victims

Readers are free to amend this draft, which puts Cedal’s argument for change in a nutshell. It has already been put as a motion to some relevant groups and adopted. The final section calls for the ultimate repeal of the part of the DVCVA that makes breach a criminal offence. But aiming for what is achievable now, the new Petition on the government website simply asks government to let family judges attach powers of arrest again to their orders, to deter breach and swiftly enforce breach should it occur. Victims’ option to rely on the police to issue proceedings for breach, and become a witness in these, may remain.

Conference Notes

  • Official social and economic cost of domestic abuse £66billion, 2016-17
  • Record childcare cases, 60% featuring domestic abuse
  • Victims’ continued unwillingness to criminalise partners/former partners
  • Most murders occur when/after victim ends relationship, following previous abuse – regardless of any earlier police/social/ voluntary services intervention
  • Family Law Act part IV (FLA)1996 non-molestation and occupation orders protected victims and children – most applications emergency –without notice- – court attached powers of arrest to orders
  • The Domestic Violence (Crime and Victims) Act 2004 (DVCVA) – a criminal law – made breach a criminal offence, maximum 5 years’ custody. Crucially, it amended the FLA to prohibit family courts from attaching powers of arrest to non-molestation orders
  • Now, on breach, victims are without protection. Legal aid ended, they must rely on criminal proceedings for enforcement

Conference Believes

  • The power of arrest was a powerful deterrent against breach, because consequences immediate – arrest, committal proceedings in 24 hours, maximum 2 years’ custody
  • Such orders provided vital calm for courts to resolve related issues – long-term living arrangements, finance, property, importantly children
  • The DVCVA has not been helpful to victims nor sent perpetrators the intended ‘clear message’

Conference Resolves

  • To amend the FLA, letting courts again attach powers of arrest to non-molestation orders
  • To repeal that part of the DVCVA making breach a criminal offence
  • Both parties in FLA and related Children Act proceedings should be eligible for legal aid
  • Support services should be properly funded

Note (i):  ‘Support services should be properly funded’ The importance of domestic abuse advisers, specialist police officers, social workers, refuges, family and children centres, drug and alcohol addiction services, Sure Start centres and so on cannot be over-estimated.  Any court proceedings are stressful but the Family Law Act provisions focus on protecting victims.  That is, providing sure and speedy protection for those who have suffered or been threatened with harm and wish to extricate themselves from partners or former partners, and resolve the issues that keep them trapped, without risking further harm. This must be the priority for those wishing to reduce the number of victims, rather than largely futile, counter-productive efforts to advise victims to become witnesses in criminal prosecutions in an ideological war on abusers, putting punishment before victim protection. There is of course nothing to stop former victims from co-operating with prosecutions, once they and their children are safely out of danger.

Note (ii): The resolution makes no reference to cuts in legal aid causing firms to close or take fee-paying clients only, so that whole counties become family law legal aid deserts.  It makes no reference either to sweeping court closures, some 300 courts having gone since 2010, with 70 more scheduled to go. This is ‘ spun’ as part and parcel of the digital revolution but domestic abuse and related family issues are simply not suitable for on-line resolution.