The landmark Domestic Abuse Bill has been lauded as ‘ground-breaking’ legislation as it has been making it’s way through the Parliamentary process. The Lords added some much needed amendments to ensure the legislation worked for victims, like mandatory judicial training and a serial perpetrators register, amongst others. The Bill was truly taking shape to be a giant leap forward for victims. Until it arrived in the House of Commons on 15th April 2021, and everything good in the Bill, was callously rejected.
A Conservative vote saw these vital amendments cast aside. The Tories almost unanimously turned their back on victims.
Those who have survived domestic abuse, only to end up further victimised in the family court were already vastly under-represented in this Bill. Without these vital amendments to improve the landscape for those in court, victims are left unprotected.
The amendments gave everyone hope that the buck might stop, where the buck should stop – within the justice system. With the Tories blocking progress, hope became a new terror.
Judicial independence and judicial discretion are concepts that becomes the mantra for impeding progress, with the Tories at the helm. Our justice system does not reflect the reality endured by it’s users, despite it’s users being one of their key accountability groups. The government turns it’s back, prioritising judicial discretion over victims safety. In other words, they have total discretion to act against the very people they should be protecting. The family court remains ‘business as usual’.
This government previously refused to act to correct injustice they had admitted to, the campaign for recourse was met with an impenetrable brick wall, that was called judicial independence. They said they could do nothing for children ordered into unsafe arrangements by the state.
During the recent appeals before the President of the Family Division, the level of the systems ignorance was scrutinised. Time and again, the judiciary is publicly under fire for outdated attitudes towards violence against women in particular. More often, these nasty biases and misconceptions about abuse, plays out in the justice system, as it does in society; frequently, and behind closed doors.
COVID saw sky-rocketing rates of domestic abuse. This wave of victims will be seeking protection from the state, where insufficient protection exists. A year on from the Harm Report, no visible change has been detected. Gathering dust on a desk somewhere in the Ministry of Justice, the promise of reform looks hollow. The same people tasked with implementing the changes to family justice, are the same people who rejected the crucial Bill amendments.
Meanwhile, victims face the bleak prospect of entering into a system for protection when they need it most, fearing what they will find. They may be told that domestic abuse doesn’t matter, that contact is more important. They may be told that their children’s right to safety is outweighed by an abusive parents desire for contact. The children find their lives and living arrangements reduced to percentages and ratios, like they are objects and not people.
Mothers frequently find the level of disbelief from those in the family court, that abuse even occurs, disconcerting. It is at odds with society, the rates of women experiencing domestic abuse are 1 in 3 – yet if you ask the justice system, this will be vastly downplayed. If you ask a mother who has been on the receiving end of the blunt tool of family justice, she will tell you they couldn’t give a damn. “I give contact to peadophiles and murderers, so domestic abuse isn’t that bad” one judge went as far to say. It is a morally defunct system when the yardstick for assessing a safe parent is merely the presence of shared DNA. Children are more than merely a product of two genetic stamps which must be divided in divorce.
It is about rights and not responsibilities or accountability in the family court. Currently, perpetrators have the rights, victims have the responsibilities and the government just reneged on one of the biggest steps towards accountability; training. No one can create a culture change without training. The justice system has demonstrated it’s position of ignorance, yet evaded it being effectively addressed.
The deficiencies in the system are vast and cannot be addressed in a vacuum. It is unlikely that the judiciary will adequately and voluntarily move forward without the compelling nature of mandatory legislature. They have discretion and independence to act against it’s own stakeholders; the public. They have been gifted impunity.
The Tories have catastrophically let down survivors of abuse, in particular women and children. When they rejected crucial amendments that would drag the judiciary into the twenty-first century, they impeded progress. Denying the need of legislation to protect those who need it most shows that when they are presented with an opportunity of a generation to make a difference, they resist it. It’s legacy will be inherited by those they purported to protect.