29 November 2023

Resolution’s Vision for Family Justice on better protecting the vulnerable in the family courts

During Annual Awareness Week, in what is the organisation’s 40th year, Resolution have launched their Vision for Family Justice. This calls for a number of changes to policy, legislation and processes in order to improve the family justice system in England and Wales. The Vision document, linked here, makes five key recommendations.

One area in which Resolution proposes change is in finding ways to better protect the vulnerable. This includes supporting and protecting victims of domestic abuse in the family court, ensuring that legal aid is available for those who need it, and ensuring that children who are affected by family law matters are supported.

Supporting and protecting victims of domestic abuse

Resolution considers that one of the ways practitioners can better support their clients is by screening for domestic abuse and utilising the Resolution Domestic Abuse Alert Toolkit, to identify situations where clients may be suffering from domestic abuse and/or violence.

Resolution further proposes that the prohibition on cross-examination of victims of domestic abuse by perpetrators is extended to apply to any case and not just new cases before the court. They also highlight the importance of judicial consistency in respect of both the implementation of the relevant Practice Directions (PD 12J and PD3AA) and the approach to a need for fact-finding, which will help to maintain the integrity of the court process.

Legal aid

Legal aid is currently only available in limited circumstances. Crucially, Resolution advocates to make public funding available to both victims and alleged perpetrators in children proceedings where there have been allegations of domestic or child abuse. Resolution also proposes that the criteria is widened to include the instruction of a specialist accredited solicitor who has screened for domestic abuse and evidence from health professionals based outside the UK. Making legal aid more widely available could have a huge impact on the protection of children and vulnerable parents. It is no secret that where two parties have distinctly different financial circumstances, the court’s ability to produce a fair result is arguably impaired. Providing increased public funding would allow for greater equality of arms between litigants.

Importantly, Resolution are also pushing for legal aid to be made available for other alternatives to court, including family mediation, collaborative practice and Resolution’s single lawyer scheme. At present, legal aid in family matters is only available in cases where there are or will be proceedings underway. Widening the gateway criteria in this way would not only assist families in finding solutions outside of court but would free-up court time to allow judges to deal with cases where court intervention is most urgently required, for example those where there is a vulnerable party.

Supporting children

Resolution’s Vision also outlines that more needs to be done to help children receive the emotional and financial support they need. They are campaigning for improvement to the child maintenance system, for example by introducing statutory recognition of enforceable child maintenance agreements, and abolition of the ’12 month rule’, to ensure that receiving parents and children have increased financial protection. When it comes to ensuring that children have the appropriate financial support, Resolution highlights that it is ultimately the children of already vulnerable households who can be worst affected and need the greatest care.

Further proposals include that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is enshrined into English domestic law and that safeguarding for children participating in Child Inclusive Mediation is improved.

Other key recommendations in the Vision for Family Justice include:

  • Cohabitation reform (find the link to our summary article here).
  • Helping families to find solutions (find the link to our summary article here).
  • Improving the way child arrangements are handled.
  • Ensuring the family courts meet the needs of families.

Forsters’ Family department supports the recommendations made by Resolution.

Resolution’s Vision refers to the statistic that 50% to 60% of families coming to court will have allegations and/or other evidence of domestic abuse. Domestic abuse and its impact on parents and children are an important part of family practice and such cases can be hugely complex. It is not only essential that family lawyers are aware of how best to support their clients, but that (much needed) changes are made in policy and law to address the current issues facing the family justice system.

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