News and policy News Experts urge action for the Family Court’s failure One year ago, on the 25th of June 2020, the Harm Panel Report concluded that victims of domestic abuse and their children are being placed at risk of further harm by the family court. One year on and there have still been no changes to the way the courts carry out their work. Over 40 experts in family justice and violence against women and girls (VAWG) are signatories to a letter to the Ministry of Justice calling for immediate action and accountability. Frontline women’s rights charity, Rights of Women, have published a letter calling for urgent action and accountability following the Family Court’s failure to introduce feasible measures which are vital for the safety and security of domestic abuse and child sexual abuse survivors. These measures are the simplest recommendations from the Harm Report, while root and branch reform is being considered by the Ministry of Justice but none of which have been implemented. Despite the evidence and urgency of the need for reform of the family courts being accepted, thousands of families continue to face the same issues identified in the Harm Panel Report. From July 2020 to April 2021 (the most recent date for which statistics are available) there have been more than 39,682 new cases referred to Cafcass including over 42,210 children. Over 40 experts in family justice and violence against women and girls (VAWG) have signed on to Rights of Women’s letter to The Ministry of Justice, The Family Justice Council, The President of the Family Division, and The Family Procedure Rules Committee. The letter calls for the immediate adoption of six “asks” to protect women and children in the family courts in England and Wales. Two women spoke to Rights of Women of their experiences in the family courts since the Harm Panel’s publication (July 2020 – present): “We’ve been in family court for 3 and a half years. Nothing has changed over that period, in fact I feel it has got worse. Recently I had a hearing on Microsoft Teams and no special measures could be arranged, despite there being a restraining order in place and the court knowing it. This made the hearing awful as he snarled at me throughout.” “At the last hearing, I didn’t feel safe at all. We couldn’t see each other but the judge allowed my ex to verbally abuse me over Zoom.” Olive Craig, Senior Legal Officer at Rights of Women, said: “The women we support on our family law advice line tell us nothing is changing – the minimisation of abuse and pro-contact culture that is causing so much harm is still alive and well. The Harm Panel Report should have been a wake-up call for the system and the professionals within it must reflect on how the system re-traumatises and further abuses women and children. The basic and immediately actionable measures we are asking for should already be the norm and further delay in introducing them is a betrayal of thousands of adult and child victims of abuse.” You can read the letter here. You can read the Statement of Practice here.