Our Hidden Legal Scandal: Domestic Abuse Survivors Gagged by Their Own Family Law Solicitors

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Up and down the country, a shocking scandal is unfolding in the family courts. Vulnerable parents and children, many escaping violent and abusive relationships, are being failed by the very system meant to protect them.

Solicitors Gag Abuse Survivors

Unknown to the wider public, abuse survivors are frequently advised by their own solicitors not to inform the court about a history of domestic violence perpetrated by their ex-partner.

The reason? Legal professionals know such disclosures are likely to be ignored or dismissed. Worse still, they may anger the abuser and lead to unsafe child contact arrangements being ordered by the court.

As a result, solicitors tell frightened clients that their only option is to stay silent about the violence they’ve endured. It’s a shocking violation of justice, gagging victims and keeping judges ignorant about serious safety risks – in some cases, with fatal consequences.

Why Are Solicitors Complicit?

With victim’s lives in their hands, how can solicitors justify being complicit in this injustice?

Many legal professionals have simply lost faith that disclosing abuse will make any difference. They have seen too many judges ignore or minimise such allegations.

One solicitor explained: “Over years of practice, you learn what will work and what will not. Allegations of violence are rarely believed and usually backfire on the victim.”

Solicitors also cite fear of angry backlash from the abuser and concerns that the survivor may lose custody altogether. With the cards stacked overwhelmingly against victims, silence is seen as the safest option.

The “Contact At All Costs” Culture

So what drives this lack of response from judges when abuse is disclosed? The simple answer – an entrenched “contact at all costs” culture within the family courts.

What is occurring today in family courts across the UK is nothing short of a national scandal. Vulnerable parents and children are being ignored, minimised and re-traumatised by the very systems supposed to protect them. Share on X

In many cases, judges elevate the goal of maintaining contact between the child and both separated parents above all else – even when there are serious safeguarding concerns. Fathers’ rights are prioritised over children’s safety and mothers’ autonomy.

Domestic Abuse Minimised and Discounted

Troublingly, a belief in myths, victim-blaming attitudes and a lack of understanding around domestic violence are all common within the judiciary.

Descriptions of coercive control are dismissed as exaggerations or lies. Violent incidents are described as “isolated” or “situational”. The lifetime impact of abuse trauma on mothers and children is minimised.

Survivors and Children Re-Traumatised

For survivors and their children, the court experience is frightening and re-traumatising. They are disbelieved, blamed and marginalised.

Many survivors reluctantly agree to unsafe contact arrangements just to escape the intimidating courtroom environment. Children are ordered into unsupervised stays with abusive partners, leaving protective parents panicking and heartbroken.

Callous Disregard for Children’s Safety

Child safeguarding is supposed to be paramount in family court proceedings. Tragically, this obligation is often disregarded when domestic abuse is involved.

Unknown to the wider public, abuse survivors are frequently advised by their own solicitors not to inform the court about a history of domestic violence perpetrated by their ex-partner. Such disclosures are likely to be ignored. Share on X

In one example, a survivor whose ex broke her toddler’s arm and made death threats was ordered to hand her child to him for overnight visits. When she begged for supervised contact, she was ignored. After months of worry, she felt she had no other option but to flee abroad with her child.

She is just one of many parents forced to make heart-wrenching decisions when courts refuse to act on concerns about violent partners.

Urgent Reform and Training Needed

Substantial reform is urgently needed in the family justice system.

The 2020 Ministry of Justice “Harm Report” lays out several recommendations to address the deep-rooted problems within the family court system, including the need for comprehensive domestic abuse training for all judges and magistrates to challenge misconceptions and improve understanding. It also calls for strengthened guidelines that emphasise child safeguarding and preventing abuse, instead of prioritising parents’ contact rights above all else. To better protect victims facing their abusers in court, the report advises introducing routine separate cross-examination facilities. Specialist domestic violence family court judges and courts are also proposed to improve justice outcomes for abuse cases.

Finally, the report recommends courts be more pro-active in referring suspected perpetrators to intervention programmes, instead of focusing solely on contact arrangements. Implementing these proposals would be an important step towards reforming the family justice system and ensuring parents’ and children’s safety is upheld.

Judicial Misogyny Must End

Ultimately, shortcomings in the family courts reflect wider societal attitudes that minimise, excuse and justify violence against primarily women and children. Until these misogynistic attitudes are eradicated, the systemic failures will continue.

There are complex challenges involved in tackling gender bias and improving understanding of domestic abuse. But this cannot excuse the abject failure to protect vulnerable abuse victims and children in state institutions.

The responsibility lies with government and justice leaders to institute reforms. Judges are clearly not going to change entrenched practices without training and strict policy direction.

A National Scandal

What is occurring today in family courts across the UK is nothing short of a national scandal. Vulnerable parents and children are being ignored, minimised and re-traumatised by the very systems supposed to protect them. Action must be taken now to ensure safety and justice for abuse survivors navigating the family court system.

There can be no more excuses for judicial misogyny, gender bias and willful blindness to the devastating impacts of domestic violence. The time has come for root and branch reform of the family courts. Only then can we hope to end this ongoing injustice and save the lives of those at risk in family courts.


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