Some thought provoking questions about child protection and perjury were asked yesterday in the Commons. They came in the form of written questions, which were put to the Ministry Of Justice (MOJ).
The Conservatives have clearly got a bee in their bonnet about lying in the Family Courts this week. Two ministers broached the subject, each from a slightly different standpoint.
Hugo Swire MP asked the Ministry Of Justice how many cases brought before the family courts have been found to be based on false allegations over the last 10 years. Answering on behalf of the MOJ, Dominic Raab, who is the current Minister of State for Justice, confirmed that this kind of information was not held centrally.
With so much box ticking and form filling taking place within local and central government these days, you’d think these departments would store important information like this. Good record keeping is one of our big bug bears, but that’s another post for another day.
The second question on the topic of lying in court was sent in by Tory MP Andrew Bridgen, who asked the MOJ how many people had been prosecuted for perjury in the family court since 2007, by gender. Once again, Raab is unable to offer an answer, citing unreasonable costs as a barrier to accessing this data.
It’s no coincidence that two, Conservative MPs have raised the subject of lying in family court at the same time, both asking for a ten year breakdown. The reference to gender, though apparently balanced, could be read as a hostile declaration of intent towards mothers, by two male MPs.
It’s likely that Families Need Fathers (FNF) have been busy lobbying Hugo and Andrew, as the Fathers’ Rights Group has strong links to the Conservative party.
You’ll also find Hugo’s signature on an FNF backed 2004 Early Day Motion calling for a presumption of shared parenting, which Fathers’ Rights Groups have been trying to force through for years. They are also notorious for alleging that women are the main perpetrators of dishonesty within custody disputes.
The last question moves away from perjury and looks at domestic violence. It comes from Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader Liz Saville-Roberts, whose impressive list of roles include shadow spokesperson for Justice, Women and Equalities and Home Affairs.
Liz asks the MOJ whether the family courts take a child’s witnessing of domestic violence into consideration when making directions in child contact proceedings. Dominic answers with this information:
“The welfare of the child is the court’s paramount concern when making any decision about their upbringing, including with whom the child is to live or spend time. In all cases where a parent applies to the family court for a child arrangements order, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) in England and Cafcass Cymru in Wales undertake safeguarding checks with the police and relevant local authority children’s services. Relevant information about risk, including from domestic abuse, is reported to the court in writing prior to the first hearing to inform safe decision-making.
In determining the child’s welfare needs the court will apply the factors set out in the ‘welfare checklist’ in the Children Act 1989. One of those factors concerns any harm the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering, which would include any harm from witnessing domestic abuse.”
Whilst it might seem like a simple question, it is anything but. The harm children experience witnessing domestic violence has up until recently not been factored into care proceedings in any meaningful way, with past court policy being very much that seeing violence is less detrimental than experiencing it first hand. (This is an area we are passionate about and have written on often. If you would like to see the latest findings, we have some available on our website.)
Liz’s question is important. As emerging research is now confirming, children who witness domestic violence are very badly affected by it, and this phenomenon needs to be more widely acknowledged and addressed in court proceedings. (Even if Dominic believes it is a foregone conclusion within the system).
Regardless of incentive or motivation for questions about child welfare, we are glad that ministers are talking about these issues. Those of us who began campaigning ten years ago will remember the silence surrounding child welfare – one minister even told us at the start of our journey, “Don’t go there – you won’t get one politician to talk about what is essentially a taboo.”