Policy paper – Government response, Domestic abuse and the Family Court: Achieving cultural change – Ministry of Justice

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In July 2023, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner published a report into the Family Court’s response to domestic abuse. The government has now responded to the recommendations within this report.

Recommendation 1 – The monitoring mechanism recommended by the Harm Panel that is being established within the Office of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and in partnership with the Victims’ Commissioner must be allocated sufficient funding both for its pilot phase and, subsequently, for its national roll out.

Response Following the publication of the final report of the Expert Panel on Assessing the Risk of Harm to Children and Parents in Private Law Children Cases1 (‘the Harm Panel’) in June
2020 the Government invited the Commissioner and the Victim’s Commissioner to undertake ongoing monitoring of private family law proceedings involving domestic abuse victims in the family courts.
The National Monitoring Mechanism will collect and publish data on the family court’s performance dealing with victims of domestic abuse and their children in private law children’s proceedings.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and HMCTS are working with the Commissioner on these pilots to establish an improved understanding of the data that is currently collected. The MoJ is interested in further discussion with the Commissioner on their proposed creation of a nationally representative data set following the completion of their pilot study. This work represents an important step towards building the transparency of the family justice system. The Government remains committed to supporting the development of this work. In the
2022/2023 financial year the MoJ provided £86,373 to the Commissioner’s office to support this work and a further £180,000 was provided by MoJ in 2023/2024.

The National Monitoring Mechanism requires datasets that are not currently available. HMCTS have undertaken significant work to ensure that, wherever possible, the new data is made available to the Commissioner by early 2024. There are some areas where it is
not currently possible to provide the required data. The Government will continue to work with the Commissioner’s office to find ways of capturing the requested information. The Commissioner’s report provides a helpful update on the development of this National Monitoring Mechanism. The Government awaits the outcome of the pilot phase with interest and remains committed to supporting the future operation of the National
Monitoring Mechanism to ensure it is effective and will deliver on its objectives.

The Government will continue to work with the Commissioner’s office on how learning from the National Monitoring Mechanism can be used to make improvements in the family

Recommendation 2 – The Government should establish, and provide appropriate funding for, a new HMCTS role of Domestic Abuse Best Practice Lead in every Family Court area.

The Government recognises that improved collaboration and sharing of best practice will enhance standards and improve consistency.
Whilst we support in principle the aims of the proposed role, we do have concerns about how it could be successful in practice given the broad span of responsibilities proposed by the Commissioner. The Government instead proposes to introduce a Domestic Abuse Champions network which will focus on sharing best practice, feeding into training and championing local and national initiatives. The network will not be responsible for
monitoring judicial compliance with Practice Directions as we believe this would interfere with judicial independence.

The network will be made up of Domestic Abuse Champions from HMCTS, Cafcass and Cafcass Cymru. Some of these roles are already well established. In Cafcass Cymru, following the publication of the Harm Panel report the organisation secured a secondee from Welsh Women’s Aid to act as a “Change Manager” to review their processes and ensure they
aligned with the report’s recommendations and helped ensure the cultural shift needed. In 2021 Cafcass Cymru established a network of 10 Domestic Abuse Champions; two from each operational area in Wales to support the Change Manager. The role of the champion is to act as a point of contact, support the secondee, showcase best practice and disseminate training to be utilised within their organisation.

Cafcass already has a network of 100 local Domestic Abuse Champions covering each of its operational service areas who are responsible for sharing best practice with their Cafcass colleagues. Cafcass is additionally hosting two secondees from SafeLives to support its domestic abuse practice improvement programme. As part of this work the
secondees are coordinating the Cafcass network of Domestic Abuse Champions, supporting local areas to embed training into practice, and participating in practice learning reviews in children’s cases where domestic abuse is known or alleged, so that learning can influence policy and practice improvement.

HMCTS will consolidate existing expertise into new Domestic Abuse Champions for each regional court area in England and Wales (seven in total). These regional champions will act as a point of contact for frontline court staff to share best practice and raise concerns, allowing a mechanism for feedback on the implementation of policy and guidance.
The champion will showcase best practice and advocate for the completion of domestic abuse training within HMCTS.

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