Our Written Submission to the Government in Support of a Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary

Public Petitions Committee / Justice Committee

The Scottish Parliament

Edinburgh

EH99 1SP

Date 7th September 2020

Written submission by The Court Said (Scotland)

Petition PE01458 Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s Judiciary

Dear committee members

We are a group of domestic abuse survivors who have spent many years in the family court system. We hope you will consider our views from our lived experiences, from the frontline. We believe there must be a register of judge’s interests; our reasons are as follows.

If a judge is a member of an association, such as the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC), then this could be detrimental to victims of domestic abuse and their children. If an interest could negatively impact users of the system, then that interest should be public knowledge.

The AFCC is a long-standing American association which is branching out into Europe and further afield. Its members are family court professionals including judges, lawyers, service providers to the family court industry, and court expert witnesses such as mental health professionals.

The AFCC are generally proponents of;

  • Parental Alienation                                          
  • Mandatory Mediation
  • Shared Parenting

As raised in debates on the recent Children (Scotland) Bill, these concepts can harm victims of domestic abuse (should they be in legislation). These matters were rejected by parliament when considering the bill, bringing more protection to the vulnerable; however, in our experience, the concept of parental alienation is still brought into the courtroom, even when not in legislation.

You may say that the judicial oath, the statement of principles and ethics and the system for complaints against the judiciary are sufficient to prevent judicial bias. We have good reason to believe this is not always the case.

When ‘parental alienation’ is counterclaimed to ‘domestic abuse’ in the courtroom, then in some cases the focus moves away from the evidence of abuse, and the spotlight shines on the apparent ‘alienating behaviour’. It is common knowledge amongst domestic abuse victims that complaining of any sort during the process can be considered as evidence against the victim and for the abusive parent. 

When victims of domestic abuse feel that certain professionals within the system have mistreated them or their children, they are often scared, worried and anxious. Judges hold immense power; the power to remove their children to care, transfer the residency of their children to the other parent, and the power to hold them in contempt; the power to send them to jail. When a domestic abuse victim is in court proceedings, they are in a constant state of fear; fear of their ex and fear of the power the judge holds. They would never dream of complaining to the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Services about the judge on their case whilst their case is ongoing, or about any other professionals in the system. Lawyers and others who support victims of abuse do not encourage victims to complain, and victims often have no idea that there is a route to complain until long after they have left the system (after the time to complain has lapsed).

There is an air of secrecy around the family courts. The factors contributing to the secrecy are;

  • The lack of a register of interests for family court system professionals including judges
  • The restrictions placed on journalists
  • The inability for parents to speak freely about their case when they feel misconduct has taken place

Therefore, any move the government can make to address the matters of secrecy, fear of complaint, and judicial bias would be helpful to domestic abuse victims and their children. A move towards transparency and openness would undoubtedly help restore the user’s confidence in the administration of justice by the family courts. Therefore, we fully support the register of interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

The Court Said (Scotland)

The Campaign for survivor family justice

Published by Rachel Watson

Rachel Watson is an author and an activist who strives to help victims of domestic abuse navigate the treacherous waters of the family justice system. The family courts can be shocking and harsh, particularly for those dealing with post-separation abuse. The problems victims and their children face in the family courts are clear and there are solutions available. Rachel runs The Court Said campaign (Scotland), the campaign for survivor family justice. If you would like to support Rachels efforts to bring about progressive reform to legislation in Scotland, to help protect victims of domestic abuse and children, then please follow, share and shout here! Twitter @thecourtsaidSCO Facebook @TheCourtSaidScotland #thecourtsaidScotland (You can also find Rachels advice on narcissistic abuse and family court on twitter @RWatson_insight and Facebook @Rachel.Watson.Insight)

7 thoughts on “Our Written Submission to the Government in Support of a Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary

  1. I sincerely hope that there is one day some sort of legislation against judicial bias throughout the UK, as myself and the children are going through exactly as you describe above. Parental alienation being listened to despite abuse and contra wishes and feelings of teen children!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s awful too, that if you were to need to get the judge recused for bias – that you have to apply to that same judge who then decides if they have been biased. I’m sorry you’re going through this. You are correct that Parental Alienation seems to be a powerful narrative – in response to domestic abuse. If they actually understood the abuse, they would know PA doesn’t feature in these cases.

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      1. Thank you for your reply. I feel for any person out there that is going through this process and would not wish this awful scenario on anyone particularly as they (and in my case the children) have suffered years of abuse. This whole process just continues the abuse and makes you and the children feel completely powerless. There is no justice. I really do hope such systems are put in place to prevent this happening to others in the future. Thank you.

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    2. Im sorry to hear you are going through this Louise, it’s the most awful experience and can often feel like they simply get away with all their behaviour and you are left helpless; worried and stressed. There are many things you can do to ‘counter’ the false accusations of parental alienation and reveal the truth to the court, its not easy but it is possible. If you are in England & Wales then see http://www.courtconfidence.com for a great course that can help you navigate the system. I’ve also got heaps of blog posts on my website that may help you deal with controlling or abusive behaviour whilst going through court action http://www.rachelwatsonbooks.com/blog – loads of free info on how to deal with the parental alienation counterclaim to abuse – hope they help. Take care

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      1. Thank you so much for taking the time to respond. I will take a look at the information you have sign posted. I need all help and advice I can get. Thank you.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. As an alienated mother who hasnt seen her child for 14 months, pa seems to be a tool only for fathers. If you are a mother who has suffered extensive domestic abuse followed by father blaming his abuse on the mother to the child, no one cares. Actual pa is coercive control of the child to punish the abused parent and is a common tactic amongst abusers. Courts arent interested if its the mother being abused.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are right Vicki – the concept of parental alienation in the courtroom has been proven in academic research to work well for abusive parents who use it as a tactical weapon to gain contact or custody. The courts often dont understand that alienating behaviour follows on from coercively controlling behaviour – it becomes domestic abuse by proxy, through the child. The lack of understanding bythe courts (and sometimes misconduct too) puts the moth
      er in a very precarious situation as they try to navigate the treacherous waters of the family court to prove their position.

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