Andrew McFarlane, the president of the family division, has endorsed the use of independent domestic violence advocates (IDVAs) for family court cases in his latest speech.

The speech, prepared for the Jersey International Family Law Conference 2021, was made on October 8th, and outlines several recommendations which place children at the centre of divorce and domestic violence (DV) proceedings.

During the speech he also reiterated that individuals would not be allowed to offer expert evidence in the family courts unless they could demonstrate their professional experience was based on “an established body of knowledge” and not pseudo-science. McFarlane also noted that experts would have to be impartial and independent.

The recommendations he made for improving the handling of domestic abuse abuses cases included:

  • Instructing an expert with relevant expertise whenever an allegation of parental alienation is made by a parent in DV cases, and where an expert is suggested.
  • The involvement of Independent Domestic Violence Advisers [‘IDVA’].
  • The implementation of special measures for vulnerable victims of abuse when giving evidence.

McFarlane also made recommendations which addressed parental conflict in divorce proceedings:

  • A framework and language which promotes child welfare and a co-operative parenting approach.
  • Access to information and direct services for children.
  • Mechanisms for the child’s voice to be heard at the time when decisions are being made which affect them.
  • Access to information and direct services for parents about how to parent following
  • separation.
  • A consideration of the emotional state of the parents and the impact this has on their parenting decisions.
  • A multi-disciplinary response, involving therapists, parenting specialists, mediators and legal services.

He also touched on ways in which language in the family courts should change and suggested the following:

  1. Safety first – if needed specialised services and the court are there to protect you.
  2. In the absence of safety concerns – the law expects parents to exercise responsibility,
    not rely on rights, to prioritise child welfare above negative feelings about each other.
  3. Getting away from the adversarial language promoting a ‘fighting for my rights’
    mentality (and from the promotion of this by the use of such acclamations as ‘somebody you
    would want in your corner’ found in some legal directories and websites).

In closing, McFarlane summarised his recommendations as part of a package to:

  • Improve the identification of and response to domestic abuse;
  • Pave the way to reform so families experience a smoother more efficient process which delivers them more quickly to focused help, and, where appropriate, does not bring them to the door of the court;
  • To increase the court’s ability to engage with and conclude a case, and;
  • To reduce backlog.

You can read the speech in full here.

Image courtesy of Safe Lives