Posts tagged ‘Family Courts’

March 1, 2014

Thoughts from Michael Johnson’s work – Practical Implications

We had a terrific keynote speech from Professor Mike Johnson at our National Conference on Wednesday.  He explained his work around typologies of relationship in domestic abuse.  He highlighted three main types (see http://www.caada.org.uk/events/CAADA_conference_2014.htm for more info) – Intimate Partner Terrorism where one partner – usually a man in heterosexual relationships – ‘terrorises’ the other, Situational Couple Violence where there is typically an equal split between male and female victims and perpetrators (although not necessarily in terms of impact) and finally ‘Violent Resistance’, where the partner of an ‘intimate terrorist’ will try and defend themselves in a violent way.  The first category is much smaller in number than the second, but with a much higher percentage of high risk cases because of the persistent existence of coercive control.  The second is by far the largest in terms of number of cases but most of these never come to the attention of public or specialist agencies such as police, IDVAs, refuges etc because the level of severity is typically much lower – although a significant percentage (about a quarter) do involve severe violence albeit without coercion and control.  The last category is very small.

So what are the implications of his research?  Firstly, it gives us a clear way to unlock the prevalence debate around 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men.  Both figures are right.  But the bulk of the violence where men are victims fits into the Situational Couple Violence category and we need to treat it in a different way.  In Situational Couple Violence, Mike’s research shows that about one third of cases involve men being violent to women, one third involve women being violent to men and one third are bi-directional.  Most do not involve patterns of violence and none involve coercion.  These are typically arguments and conflict that get out of control and where there is a violent incident.  In many cases this is a one off.  This is borne out by the crime survey for England and Wales which shows that about a third (I quote from memory) of cases are resolved in a month.  This is not the sort of coercion, violence and control that we see in our work.

Secondly, it has clear implications for the family courts in particular in relation to children.  Mike describes the impact of Intimate Partner Terrorism as the ‘poison’ that infects a family and leaves children exposed to constant stress.  You will all be familiar with the literature about the impact of this on the neurological development of small children.  The courts and those arranging contact between children and their parents need to get real clarity around this.

Thirdly, at a time when the police and others are reviewing the use of risk assessment, does this have a message for front line officers?  My sense is no.  There is a level of sophistication in distinguishing between different types of relationship which probably won’t be done most effectively at 3 in the morning. Front line officers need to collect evidence, safeguard the parties involved in an incident and manage the immediate risk that they are faced with.

Does it have implications for the work of specialists in the field?  My sense is yes.  At its most basic, many people in our field still speak about high risk as if it didn’t include coercion and control.  I feel as if there can’t be anyone left who doesn’t understand that coercion is totally linked to risk – as well of course as significant physical violence.  However, apparently there are!  When I listen to people saying: “Half of the homicide reviews were of standard risk cases” I do want to say that they really were NOT!  But they might have been hidden to public agencies or we didn’t spot the coercion and control because there was little or no physical violence disclosed, or because the person doing the risk assessment didn’t understand its significance.  I really would commend to practitioners the severity of abuse grid that we have put in the IDVA version of the DASH checklist (http://www.caada.org.uk/dvservices/RIC_and_severity_of_abuse_grid_and_IDVA_practice_guidance.pdf  see pages 8 and 9).  Look at the examples of coercion and control included under sexual abuse, stalking and harassment and jealous and controlling behaviour.  As an aside, we are in favour of streamlining the DASH tool for police – but anxious not to confuse the tool itself from the training and supervision required to implement ANY tool effectively.  College of Policing please note!!

More broadly, I think that the options we offer those in Intimate Partner Terrorism relationships are broadly appropriate.  However, we offer the same interventions to those experiencing Situational Couple Violence – and Mike argued very convincingly that the dynamics are not the same.  Our data show that only about 15% of victims supported by IDVA services do not disclose jealous and controlling behaviour – perhaps they are in  situational couple violence relationships? Mike’s research shows that a significant percentage of these do not want to split up – but this is broadly the only option we are offering them today.  I say this with great caution – BUT – if someone is genuinely in a Situational Couple Violence relationship, surely we should be looking at work with the couple and even anger management?  These are all interventions that are traditionally seen as unsafe where Intimate Partner Terrorism is involved.

Mike was very clear that our starting point must be to assume Intimate Partner Terrorism and safety plan as if this was the case.  However, his analysis does give us a few more options if, and only if, a real risk expert, with a capital ‘E’, establishes that this is not the case.

January 12, 2012

Not great if you are in a hurry…

See below for the latest statistics from the Ministry of Justice about the length of time taken by different types of cases and their wider comments on plans to reduce these.  Not great if you are in a hurry…

Ministy of Justice Logo

The Ministry of Justice has today published court statistics, which for the first time show the average duration of civil and family cases at every County Court.  These statistics, which support the case for a comprehensive reform programme across the justice system, also show the duration of criminal cases at every Crown Court and local magistrates’ court group.  This will enable the public to see how quickly cases are handled at their local court, and to compare it to other courts across England and Wales.

The new timeliness statistics showed that in July to September 2011, on average:

  • Care proceedings took 55 weeks.
  • Hearings for small claims (under £5,000) in civil courts took place 30 weeks after the claim was originally made. The figure was 57 weeks for higher value cases, which are dealt with by a different process.
  • Criminal cases were completed 152 days after the offence.

Ministers have already committed to a series of reforms to speed up the justice process. Measures include improved technology, more use of mediation to solve civil and family disputes, and simplifying processes to reduce delays and frustration for victims and witnesses of crime.

The Government’s reform programme extends across the family, civil and criminal justice systems.  For example, on family justice,  the Government will introduce a six month time limit for care cases to be completed, so that the system provides the best service to those at the heart of the system – children.  On civil justice, one of the measures in the Government’s proposals that were published last year was to give thousands more people the opportunity to consider telephone-based mediation as a simpler, quicker way to resolve their differences rather than going to court.  And on criminal justice, the Government has set out its intentions to abolish unnecessary committal hearings for ‘either way’ crimes to help save thousands of hours of court time each year.

The Government will publish its full response to the Family Justice Review and civil justice consultation shortly.

January 11, 2012

Welsh Women’s Aid facts underline need for changes to Legal Aid Bill

Welsh Women’s Aid and Rights of Women have just published a very timely survey of over 300 women using WWA member services and their eligibility for legal aid under the proposed legislation.  The information was collected in the week of 15-21 December and showed that almost half of those surveyed would not be eligible under the current proposed evidence requirements for verifying domestic abuse.  Interestingly, the single largest group who would be eligible were those who had had their case heard at a MARAC – at over 30% of the total.  The survey is well worth looking at http://www.rightsofwomen.org.uk/pdfs/Policy/Evidencing_dv_the_facts.pdf

 

November 8, 2011

Social Services have both statutory and common law duty to protect children from abuse

Interesting judgement highlighted by the UK Human Rights blog.  Note that the local authority should take steps to safeguard a child’s welfare where they suspect that the child is at risk  – where it is ‘reasonably practicable’ to do so.  So does highlighting the risks at a MARAC constitute making it ‘reasonably practicable’.

 

Social Services have both statutory and common law duty to protect children from abuse

ABB & Ors v Milton Keynes Council [2011] EWHC 2745 (QB)- read judgment

Justin Levinson of 1 Crown Office Row acted for the claimants in this case. He is not the author of this post.

This case concerned the entitlement to compensation for the years of abuse the claimants, three brothers a sister, the youngest, who had suffered at the hands of their father. The older claimants had both suffered regular abuse from an early age until late teens. The third claimant escaped the prolonged abuse suffered by his brothers. The fourth claimant, who was conceived after the defendant social services became aware of the situation, nevertheless endured abuse for five or six years.

The father’s abuse of the older boys came to light in 1992 when the first three claimants were placed on the child protection register and the father moved out of the family home. However charges against him were subsequently dropped and he returned home. The names were removed from the register but the abuse continued.

The facts were not disputed but the principal issue between the parties was that of the quality of social work practice adopted by the defendants’ employees and whether this fell below a reasonable standard.

Statutory and common law negligence

The statutory basis of the defendants’ duties is set out in Section 47 of the Children Act 1989.  Put simply, that section requires any local authority, which suspects that a child in its area is at risk, should take steps to safeguard the child’s welfare. However this duty only arises if it is within the authority’s power and it is “reasonably practicable”  for them to do so. The section does not, in itself, provide a civil cause of action for those who assert that the duty has not been complied with.  There is in addition to the statutory duty a common law – or judge-made – basis for the duty of care in the event of suspected child abuse is to be found in  D and others v East Berkshire Community Health [2003] EWCA Civ 1151.

Read the full post at Social Services have both statutory and common law duty to protect children from abuse « UK Human Rights Blog.

 

November 3, 2011

Family Justice Review published

I haven’t had time to read it yet but here are the official headlines……will give you my views in the next couple of days. Please let me know what you think of it.

The Family Justice Review panel today published its final report which announces a package of recommendations aimed at tackling delays in the family justice system and to make sure that children and families are given the service they deserve.

The key recommendations are:

  • A new six month time limit in care cases so delays are significantly reduced.
  • Enabling people to make their own arrangements for their children when they separate, and only use courts when necessary.
  • Overhauling the family justice system so that agencies and professionals work together with greater coherence to improve the experience and outcomes for children and families.
    read more »

June 22, 2011

Legal Aid – change in definition of domestic violence

The general response to the revised Legal Aid proposals has been pretty hostile yesterday. One important concession has been the inclusion of MARAC cases within the domestic violence definition which is a first step to recognising different forms of abuse other than physical violence, and acknowledging the importance of supporting high risk cases.  There are nearly 300 pages of response to read so more on the rest later….

May 26, 2011

Interesting new research on importance (or not) of shared parenting

This new research from Oxford University looks at the impact of shared parenting on the outcomes for children whose parents are separated.  It is important because there are two Private Members Bills before the House that are seeking to make the presumption of shared parenting the default position in contact cases.  The research stresses that it is the quality of the relationships rather than the absolute amount of time spent with a non-resident parent that is key – something which our wise former colleague, Dr Emma Howarth told me at weekly intervals….

Family Law.

May 25, 2011

So it has come to this? Life after Legal Aid?

Will this be the first in a long line of best sellers?  Go to http://www.nofamilylawyer.co.uk/ to find what looks like the first ‘how-to’ guide on represent oneself in the Family Courts as a litigant in person.  Hmmm, however good any book like this is, it doesn’t feel like ‘access to justice’ to me.