Authors:Legal Action Group
Last updated:2024-03-28
‘Vital and transformative’ changes afoot for domestic abuse victims
Marc Bloomfield
Description: APPG on Access to Justice
Domestic abuse victims will be able to use a streamlined process to obtain protection orders, if a pilot project starting this spring is successful.
The minister for victims and safeguarding, Laura Farris MP, said the pilot will ‘form a new landscape’ for victims experiencing domestic abuse, with domestic abuse protection orders, announced last year alongside other measures, becoming ‘a really important tool for access to justice’. Following the change, victims will be able to get all the orders they need in one court – either the magistrates’ court or the county court – rather than facing multiple hearings.
Speaking at event on violence against women, organised by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Access to Justice, Farris said: ‘It might be an occupancy order or a non-molestation order that is needed … it means [victims] can get everything they might need in one order at one hearing … it can have mandatory obligations on [the abuser] so he might have to go on a perpetrator programme or an alcohol programme. It is vital and transformative.’
Panel chair Baroness Helena Kennedy KC highlighted the importance of combating violence against women: ‘We all know that women are never going to enjoy full equality in society while they confront violence so frequently in their lives, whether in the public arena or private spaces.’
The domestic abuse commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, said that 2.1m people were subjected to domestic abuse last year, most of them women. It was the most frequent reason people called the police and the most frequent reason why children and families were involved with social care.
The government has piloted two Pathfinder courts in Wrexham and Bournemouth, with a plan to roll out two more, in Cardiff and Birmingham. The commissioner outlined the theory behind the pilot: ‘[I]n those courts, it is almost as if you had redesigned a court and made it fit for purpose. It has been redesigned to bring information about the context of the family together within six to eight weeks. The voice of child is much better boosted and the victim is much better understood. The court understands the context of domestic abuse and there is a domestic abuse specialist assessment that feeds into that report.’
An initial evaluation of the pilot will be carried out in the next month. However, lawyers say any wider changes need to be approached strategically and the acute crisis in legal aid must be addressed. Jenny Beck KC (Hon), a director of family law firm Beck Fitzgerald, said the ‘paucity of the fixed fee undermines women’s safety’, and the unmanageable legal aid fees need to be addressed and reflect the true costs of working with traumatised women.