January 21 2022

Mothers left ‘belittled’, ‘disbelieved’ and ‘threatened’ in family courts, Appeal judges hear

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Mothers left ‘belittled’, ‘disbelieved’ and ‘threatened’ in family courts, Appeal judges hear

Sketch by Isobel Williams

Four mothers faced being ‘belittled’, ‘disbelieved’, ‘dismissed’ and ‘threatened’ in the family courts, it was alleged in the Court of Appeal last week. This was the case put forward by a barrister representing four women’s organisations on the third and final day of a landmark hearing to examine the treatment of domestic abuse cases centred on child welfare issues. This is the first time that the Appeal judges have looked at the handling of domestic abuse cases by the family courts in 21 years.

It is anticipated the groundbreaking joint appeal seeking to overturn decisions around child contact taken in the family courts could result in fresh guidance being issued to judges in England and Wales. Barbara Mills QC was making submissions to appeal judges on behalf of Women’s Aid, Rights of Women, Rape Crisis England and Wales and Welsh Women’s Aid. Referring to the appeals by four women which all feature allegations of rape and coercive control by the father of their children, Mills told the court: ‘They would have come to the family court hoping they and their children would be protected. But when one looks at the judgements my clients would say that what those women faced was belittling, being disbelieved, being dismissed and sadly, on occasion, being threatened.’

Earlier in the hearing appeal judges had heard an audio recording of Judge Richard Scarratt making ‘wholly inappropriate’ remarks to a young mother, including that her child could be placed in adoption. Mills told the court the respondent father’s barrister had struggled to find the appropriate adjective for Scarratt’s behaviour but added: ‘We don’t hesitate to give it a name and the name we give it very squarely is abuse.’

Appeal judges Sir Andrew McFarlane, Lady King and Lord Holroyde will consider how the family courts handle allegations of coercive control and rape, and whether current guidance is applied appropriately in cases concerning child welfare. In a written outline, the women’s charities claimed ‘coercive and controlling behaviour is simply misunderstood and therefore not properly recognised by the courts’.

Mills told the court: ‘The mischief, if I can reduce it to such a word, the court should be looking out for is the power dynamic and the patterns of behaviour.’ She stressed that coercive and controlling behaviour could continue beyond the end of an abusive relationship. Women’s charities asserted in their written submission that there are ‘systemic failures’ in the family justice system. They said where domestic abuse is claimed, it should be routine that the court proactively takes an investigative role – but that this was rare.

Of 133 private law cases reviewed by Women’s Aid and Cafcass in 2017 which featured allegations of abuse, only five were subject to fact-finding hearings ordered by the court. Concerns about a ‘pro-contact’ culture in the family courts was a recurring theme during the hearing and echoes findings made by the Ministry of Justice ‘harm’ report.

Appeal judges were urged that judicial training by specialists was vital to dispel rape myths and to ensure a greater understanding of coercive control.

The court also heard submissions from barrister Mark Jarman on behalf of Cafcass, the largest employer of social workers in England. Cafcass should be involved in child welfare cases at an early stage where issues of domestic abuse are made, he told the court. He added: ‘The voice of the child must be the focus of this court and of the issues raised.’ Jarman said current guidance updated in 2017 was fit for purpose but ‘not sufficiently embedded in court practice’. Of around 50,000 private law applications a year, 60% included allegations of domestic abuse, the court heard.

McFarlane said: ‘It is striking that, although it is said there is a systematic failure in approach to domestic abuse that so few appeals are brought.’ The reasons for this could be financial, that the applicant felt there was no point appealing because the claims of domestic abuse had not been found, or that they were ‘worn down by the system’, the court heard.

Sarah Morgan QC representing Families Need Fathers referred to what she described as a ‘gendered flavour’ to the debate, telling the court the word ‘parent’ had seldom been used. ‘Often perpetrators of domestic abuse…are the children’s father but sometimes they are not. It does not even follow that if the father is the perpetrator, the victim is necessarily the mother.’ Morgan said it was stark how many people involved in proceedings were litigants in person.

Earlier in the hearing the court was told that fathers were more likely to be without legal representation. The need for judicial continuity was also raised by the barrister of one respondent father who said his client’s case had been presided over by eight different judges. In a written statement Families Need Fathers said its membership did not recognise the ‘pro-contact’ culture described in the harm report as reflective of its experience. It said it readily acknowledged domestic abuse in all its forms as abhorrent.

No findings of abuse had been made against any of the respondent fathers whose children were the subject of the four cases examined and each of the men opposed the appeals.

Barrister Charlotte Proudman who successfully applied for three of the cases to be heard together because of a wider public interest said: ‘It is rare for domestic abuse cases to reach higher appeal courts but it is hoped further cases could be overturned or appeals granted.’

Appeal judges are considering their judgement.

4 responses to “Mothers left ‘belittled’, ‘disbelieved’ and ‘threatened’ in family courts, Appeal judges hear”

  1. Fiona McCormick says:

    I am a British mother abused by the family Court System which is not fit for purpose. I have been apart from my children I love so much for 29 years with no Contact at all thanks to Judge Alan Goldsack at Sheffield who abused me in court. I was abused by my ex Adrian McCormick both physically and Mentally for years. I have a Facebook video about my case. Being a mum is the Best thing I have done in my life I have never wanted to be apart from my Babies for one minute. When they stole my children’s childhood I vowed never to live with or do anything for any man again that was 30 years ago I have not it is one of the Best Decisions I have Ever made and women in this situation need to stand together and stand firm on this because women have rights.

  2. JustOneThing says:

    Sadly this has happened to me too. My ex has taken me to court 3 times in the past 3 years. He uses the courts as a platform to abuse, to accuse me of terrible things and to tey and get legal backing to control what i do. Eventually no evidence is found, he does this over and over again, usually bringing up old matters that have been decided over by previous judges. But because we have had different judges at every sitting, it’s hard for the courts to see the repetative abusive behaviour.
    Despite my ex being on bail for stalking, coercive control and harrassment, and I have to have a police alarm on me at all times, the courts regarded it as “parental conflict” and point blanc refused to investigate the abuse, not recognising this has an imapact on our child too. My child is scared to play on the street because his dad has snatched him in the past.. but who cares? Certaintly not the family courts because it’s just “paretnal conflict”, right?
    Our last court hearing resulted in us being threatened that if we was to take it back to court again, our child would be placed under a 16.4 guardianship and we would hold no right to speak for our child. This seems unfair as I have never taken him to court, I only respond because I have to. This has also played into the abusers hands as now he uses this to threaten me into doing what he wants. We do not asked to be stalked, the be threatened, blackmailed, snatched, abused, repetitively taken to court… but speaking out about it creates more conflict and enabled abuse in court than when I just remained silent.

  3. Doreen Ludwig says:

    Father’s rights diminish maltreatment (physical, sexual, psychological abuse) against both women and the children. Father’s rights have been very successful at implanting their ideology of “two parents” “shared parenting” “open access (custody).” In America the ideology is federally funded and mandated. Courts are mandated to IGNORE evidence and harm to the children and INCREASE father’s custody. The family court trade association AFCC (Association of Family and Conciliation Courts) acts as an international network for those profiting off these cases. AFCC is training court practitioners to use psychological reprogramming methods on children. Doreen Ludwig’s book, “AFCC net: People, Policy, Practices that Intrude in Child Custody Determinations” explains.

  4. a protective mom says:

    This happening all over the country and all over the world. Look into the history of the AFCC and see how “father’s rights groups” have infiltrated family court under the guise of uniting families. The real agenda is privatizing the system for profit and maintaining the power of men without regard to the safety of children or women.

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