Family Law case to change approach to domestic abuse

Yesterday the Court of Appeal handed down judgment on a groundbreaking case which is set to change the way courts treat domestic abuse, coercive and controlling behaviour claims.

Earlier in the year, the Court of Appeal were asked to examine how the family courts treated such allegations, in the said groundbreaking case, which at the time, was likely to result in new guidance being issued to judges.

Back in January, President of the family division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, Lady Justice King and Lord Justice Holroyde heard four linked appeals relating to family proceedings involving the welfare of children.

McFarlane told the court back in January:

“Domestic abuse does not just involve particular acts of violence. The last time these issues were looked at by the Court of Appeal 21 years ago, the phrase was “domestic violence”. My memory is, at that time, the court was only occupied in determining whether there had been violence.”

Yesterday, two months after hearing all four appeals, Family Division President Sir Andrew McFarlane, Lady Justice King and Lord Justice Holroyde published a 47-page judgment.

Over two decades ago, the appeal court was requested to provide general guidance on the approach to domestic abuse in child contact cases. Practice Direction 12J (PD12J) was issued thereafter, setting out what the family court is required to do in cases where “it is alleged or admitted that the child or a party has experienced domestic abuse or that there is a risk of such abuse.”

In the ruling delivered yesterday, the appeal court confirmed PD12J was still fit for purpose, but the challenge related to its proper implementation. The court offered ‘pointers’ to those implementing the Domestic Abuse Act and any subsequent revision of PD12J. These include asking, in every case where domestic abuse is alleged, both parents to describe in short terms, either in a written statement or orally at a preliminary hearing, the overall experience of being in a relationship with each other.

More information about the judgement is here.

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