On 14 September 2017, Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division, issued guidance in relation to cases where there are allegations of domestic abuse in Children Act Proceedings. The guidance is contained in the new Practice Direction 12J which came into force on 2 October 2017.
The Practice Direction acknowledges domestic abuse as being harmful to children, whether they are subjected to it, witness violence or abuse or live in a home where domestic abuse is perpetrated.
Domestic abuse is now defined as being “any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. This can encompass but is not limited to the following types of abuse: - psychological, physical, sexual, financial and emotional”.
The Practice Direction sets out what the Court must consider when faced with domestic abuse allegations and provides guidance as to the various factors which should be considered, such as the granting of Interim Orders and putting greater emphasis on safety considerations for the child and the parent involved.
The Practice Direction also places greater emphasis on the Court being satisfied that any contact ordered with a parent who has perpetrated domestic abuse does not expose a child and/or the other parent to the risk of harm and is in the child’s best interests.
The Practice Direction also tries to prevent a victim of alleged domestic abuse being cross-examined at Court by the perpetrator and having to cross-examine them. This is due to the rise in victims dealing with their own cases at Court, as litigants in person.