Back into harm’s way

The Guardian has been investigating the way women are abused in family court in the UK:

Violent and abusive men are being allowed to confront and cross-examine their former partners in secretive court hearings that fail to protect women who are victims of abuse, a Guardian investigation has found.

Mothers involved in family court hearings have given graphic descriptions of the “torture” of being questioned by abusive men – a practice still allowed in civil cases but banned in criminal courts.

They describe how former partners can make repeated, sometimes spurious, court applications to continue the harassment.

In one case, a mother was cross-examined for two hours by her ex-husband despite him being the subject of a restraining order to keep him away from her.

Sarah, whose name has been changed, said: “I thought, why does the judge allow him to continue this abuse? I had escaped a really violent relationship, it was a very hard thing to do, and the court threw me back into harm’s way constantly. It was torture for me.”

It’s what One Law for All objects to in religious courts, but family court is part of the secular legal system.

The revelations have prompted one MP to demand a review of the way the court system operates and a change in the law. Peter Kyle, Labour MP for Hove and Portslade, said the situation amounted to the “abuse and brutalisation” of women by the legal system. “Mothers need the protection of the law and they need to know in advance that the system is there to look out and protect their interests,” he said.

“It only takes one woman to be placed in a situation where she can be legally be asked by the man who has violently abused her; ‘When did you last have sex?’. That only has to happen once to realise that the system is corrupted and domestic abuse is going on in our system in the courtroom.”

The evidence obtained by the Guardian spans ongoing and completed cases, interviews with participants, lawyers and court officials. It reveals how the family court:

  • Allows men with criminal convictions for abusing their ex-partners to directly question them – sometimes repeatedly.
  • Is able to ignore restraining orders imposed by the criminal courts to protect the women.
  • Allows fathers, no matter how violent or abusive, to repeatedly pursue contact with children and their mothers.
  • Can ignore expert evidence that women are at risk from abusive men.
  • Fails to adequately protect vulnerable victims of domestic and sexual abuse.

What a horror.

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