Enable family courts to protect domestic abuse victims | Letter

Campaigner and former family law solicitor Jan Williams calls for family courts to be able to attach powers of arrest to non-molestation orders, so breaches can be swiftly enforced

Given the known reluctance of domestic abuse victims to criminalise present or ex-partners, or engage in criminal proceedings likely to worsen their plight, it is as unfair as it is unsurprising that the police are once more the subject of complaint and investigation (Police failing to impose orders on men accused of abuse, watchdog finds, 24 August).

When Erin Pizzey’s “battered wives” first highlighted this in the 1970s, family (civil) court non-molestation orders were introduced to offer applicants a safe route from potentially life-threatening situations. Breaches were swiftly enforced through contempt of court proceedings, requiring respondents to “show cause” why they should not be imprisoned for up to two years if the breach was proved. The powers of arrest that family courts routinely attached required police to immediately arrest respondents and return them for a hearing before a senior judge the next day, if a victim called them to say a respondent had used or threatened violence.

The implementation in 2007 of a law making a breach a criminal offence, punishable only in criminal proceedings, and prohibiting judges from attaching powers of arrest, was a hugely retrograde step and has clearly not sent perpetrators “the strong message” its advocates intended.

As a former practising family law solicitor, now sitting on my local police and crime commissioner’s domestic abuse scrutiny panel, I urge the immediate re-empowerment of victims by allowing family courts to attach powers of arrest to their orders, so that breaches may be promptly and unproblematically enforced.
Jan Williams
Director, Campaign for Effective Domestic Abuse Laws

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