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Bridget Phillipson MP calls for safer family courts for domestic violence victims

With the increase in litigants in person since 2013, the safety for domestic violence victims when facing their abusers in family court hearings has raised concerns and demands action. 

Bridget Phillipson, Houghton and Sunderland South MP, recently raised this issue to the Ministry of Justice in a parliamentary written question. Caroline Dinenage MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice responded that HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) takes safety for all court users “extremely seriously”, and that security measures are put in place, including “mandatory bag searches, the use of modern security searching equipment and surveillance cameras, and panic alarms in hearing rooms”. 

With the increase in litigants in person since 2013, the safety for domestic violence victims when facing their abusers in family court hearings has raised concerns and demands action. 

However, Bridget is concerned that these measures do not take into account the intimidation and verbal violence that survivors often have to face in family courts.

Responding to the answer from the Ministry of Justice, Bridget said:

“Unfortunately, the Minister’s answer does not reflect the reality facing many survivors of domestic abuse.

“All too often, women face the risk of further verbal abuse, intimidation, and even physical assault when attending family court hearings. The case studies collected by Women’s Aid are part of a much wider problem. The family courts have a long way to go until survivors of abuse and their children receive the support and protection they need.”

Women’s Aid, a national charity working to end domestic abuse against women and children, recently published Child First report, of nineteen case studies on child contact arrangements and the family courts. The report highlighted the shocking experience of survivors in family courts, and the dangers children are exposed to from formal or informal contact arrangements with the abusive parent.

On behalf of constituents who supported the Child First campaign, Bridget also wrote to the Ministry of Defence to emphasise putting children’s safety first in family court rulings on contact arrangements with the abusive parent concerned. Caroline Dineage MP replied in a letter to Bridget, which you can view here

Responding also to the Ministry of Justice, Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, said:

“In the criminal courts, there are protection measures in place to give victims fair access to justice. This is not always the case in the family courts.

“Women’s Aid launched the Child First campaign to call for protection measures to be available to all survivors of domestic abuse in the family courts.”

Before entering Parliament, Bridget managed a refugee for women and their families fleeing domestic violence. Between 2010-2015, Bridget also worked as Secretary to All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Domestic and Sexual Violence, which published the report The Changing Landscape of Domestic and Sexual Violence Services in February 2015. 

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