Public Petitions Committee / Justice Committee
The Scottish Parliament
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