As you may already know we have been campaigning for those affected by the harm in the family court to have a separately available recourse mechanism to put right the harm they have suffered.
This week I met with Minister Alex Chalk, the Under-Secretary of State, and asked for the government’s position on a separate provision for survivors to access justice. Alex explained to me that unfortunately this is an issue that would threaten the independence of the judicial system and could have unconstitutional ramifications not just here in the UK, but throughout the Commonwealth. It has been confirmed that the government’s position on this is a definite ‘no’.
Whilst I understand the deeply important constitutional arguments against offering a separate mechanism for recourse, I do feel that judicial independence is currently an issue. A Judiciary that does not act with integrity and impartiality, in my view, are not independent and deserve no such protections. However, to intrude on the independence of the judiciary is an un-democratic act.
Currently, the situation in the Family Court for survivors is shambolic. Hearing heart-breaking stories is our every-day, the same as those heart-breaking stories are your every-day, if you are living it.
Alex Chalk has also been listening to these experiences. He was very enthusiastically describing the changes and the reforms that are coming up. Regrettably, we may not have been given an uncomplicated way out right now. But that is not to say there isn’t light at the end of the tunnel. There is a lot of good news on the horizon, but that doesn’t affect the here and now. Let’s not forget those who have been on the sharpest end of a system capable of destroying their families lives. Let’s not forget how we got to the point of public outcry. Let’s not forget this is still going on, with the Family Court operating on a ‘business as usual’ basis.
The good news on the horizon is that the recommendations from the harm report (Read the report here – recommendations start on page 173) are beginning to be implemented, pilots are being organised and the motion is very much forward. COVID-19 has added complications to this process, but the reforms are still very much at the forefront of Alex Chalk’s agenda, and something he was clearly extremely passionate about.
I also had the opportunity to join another meeting attended by Peers from the House of Lords. Brave survivors spoke their testimony amid tears and deep breaths, and no one hearing it was untouched by these harrowing accounts.
They are listening. They recognise the necessity of involving us in these conversations. Survivors voices were central to the harm report, but crucially, they must remain central during the process of reform.
Not winning recourse does not mean we will not be treated better in future. One of the most important realisations coming out of these meetings and hearing this disappointing news was that we must do our utmost as a community to ensure that this system is not a hostile place for a survivor entering it for the first time, or for the ones who will now be forced to go back after having been treated unjustly before.
If a separate mechanism for recourse hasn’t been granted, this leaves survivors who have already been harmed, in the difficult situation of knowing they can’t enter the system just yet to reverse the damage. Childhoods are time limited and there is a need for urgency in moving this forward to safer resolutions.
Many survivors will feel like they have been abandoned by government again when they needed their protection the most. If there had been no honesty in the review and harm report, or if there had been no recommendations of bold, sweeping reform, I would agree. But the fact is these reforms are on the table, and the moves to implement are happening. There is cross party acknowledgement and support for the changes that so sorely need to be made.
This means we must now concede on the point of separate recourse and get behind the government’s moves to reform. The government will have opposition in many quarters to the reforms by those who are benefitting from the current status quo. If we fall silent after this setback, we give this opposition the power.
If we unite our voices for what is possible in the upcoming reforms, those reforms are likely to be implemented more quickly, with greater effectiveness and increased public accountability.
We must make the decision in times of trouble to focus on the things we can do, can change, and can help with, rather than the things we cannot.
This is by no means the end of the road.
Already, #thecourtsaid is reducing the more brutal outcomes in the family court through the ground-breaking, 5* rated programme of help we provide (learn more here). Survivors deserve to know more than just the law, because the law is just a fraction of this journey. We now move to develop our amazing national and international networks, working on exciting projects and initiatives; all with one over-arching aim:
Safer futures for survivor families, everywhere.