The government has announced that it will launch a mini review into cases involving domestic abuse. The inquiry falls short of a full-scale review and misses key areas vital to understanding the family courts’ failings in this area.

In a press release issued today, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) has said that it will review child protection practices inside the family courts with a panel of experts and the collection of evidence from the public in an open consultation.

The panel for the review will be chaired by the MOJ and will include senior members of the judiciary, leading academics and charities. The panel will not include members of the public who have been affected by the court process.

The experts, who have not yet been named, will have just three months to report back on their findings.

The short time-scale is not the review’s only problematic feature. The investigation will focus on a narrow set of issues, which cannot be understood as standalone elements inside the system.

The current scope of the mini review includes:

  • Looking at Practice Direction 12J – optional guidance which relates to child arrangement cases where domestic abuse is alleged
  • Investigating how the courts use ‘barring orders’ which block further applications being made without the court’s permission under the Children Act 1989
  • Collecting evidence of the impact on children and victims where child contact is sought by someone alleged to have, or who has, committed domestic abuse or other relevant offences

One of the most important areas the review has failed to include in its remit is how allegations affect orders being made in child protection cases where one party alleges abuse.

New research published las month showed that judges were more likely to award child contact to a parent after they made an allegation of parental alienation in cases where the other parent brought up an allegation of child abuse.

While parents can and do exploit their children during divorce and child welfare proceedings, the research makes another important point – that ill-informed trends in child protection and a limited understanding of domestic abuse obscures solutions which are in the best interests of children.

And many of the problems associated with cases involving abuse run right through the system, which means a piecemeal approach is never going to be satisfactory.

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