Public And Industry Calls for Transparency in Family Courts

A charity supporting victims of domestic abuse and MP Trudy Harrison have backed the launch of the #getmhome campaign tomorrow, the 16 November, seeking to end the injustice in secret family courts.   

The campaign was started by Victoria Hudson, who had a member of her family forcibly removed by Cumbria Children’s Services in September 2018, and who has not been allowed contact for months at a time.  In an open letter on Twitter, Victoria detailed the injustice of the removal of the little girl, aged 2 at the time, stating that she was a ‘victim of the injustices that happen in the secret family court system’ as well as the hostility of Cumbria’s Children’s Services, the contact centre as well as the foster-carer who receives a fostering allowance.   

The campaign supports the #endthisinjustice campaign and welcomes the Domestic Abuse Bill into parliament which is backed by 130 MPs and various charities and is due to enter the report stage in the House of Commons. 

The discussion regarding the lack of transparency and injustices of family courts began following a letter to Former Justice Secret, David Gauke, organised by MP Louise Haigh and 123 MPs.  Raising the case of Sammy Woodhouse, a survivor of the Rotherham sexual exploitation scandal, who as a result had a child by her abuserthe letter called for an inquiry into the treatment of domestic abuse and violence victims in family courts, with an aim to establish the extent of the problem. 

In May 2019, Theresa May rejected the calls for an independent inquiry however, stating that “The Ministry of Justice currently have not seen evidence to suggest that a public inquiry is necessary”.  The Ministry of Justice did however agree to a 12week inquiry that would not be independent or rely on expert evidence from the legal industry. 

All is not lost however, campaigns such as #getmhome and empowered lawyers are still committed to a more transparent family legal system; solicitors such as Cris McCurley and Jenny Beck, who along with 140 concerned prominent lawyers, wrote an open letter to the Ministry of Justice again, calling for an independent inquiry.  With a pledge of support from Shadow Justice Minister Richard Burgon and a meeting with Justice Minister Paul Maynard, there was the commitment that the recommendation that the 12week inquiry should consult with legal specialists. 

Despite the inquiry still ongoing, an interim report has identified the emerging themes from a consultation that had 1,200 respondents. 

The aim of the consultation was to “understand the experiences of those involved in such proceedings, identify any systemic issues and build a more robust evidence base to inform improvements.” 

A common theme was ‘how the family court prioritised the child’s relationship with a non-resident parent over the welfare of the child and the risks to which this could expose the child and other parent” as well as systemic issues in relation to how risk is identified and managed which need to be addressed to ensure that victims and children involved in these proceedings are better protected from further harm. 

There will be many eagerly awaiting the final report of the inquiry and what recommendations will be made, along with news on the currently shelved Domestic Abuse Bill following the General Election. 

The launch of the #getmhome campaign is being held at the Rainbow Room in Aspartria between 10am and 12pm, tomorrow, the 16th November 2019. 

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