I wish to announce to the House the establishment of an expert panel to gather evidence on outcomes for children and parent victims in contact cases and other private law children proceedings, in particular any harm caused during or following such proceedings, where there are allegations and/or other evidence of domestic abuse or other crimes relevant to such a risk of harm.
The Government take these matters extremely seriously and want to understand the full range of available evidence on this issue.
The panel will gather evidence on the operation of Practice Direction 12J in the family courts, which sets out what the court should do in child arrangements cases where there are allegations, admissions, or evidence that domestic abuse has happened, or evidence of a risk that it could happen, to the child or another party. The panel will also consider the operation of this practice direction with the risk of harm exception to the presumption of parental involvement.
The panel will also gather evidence of effects on children and parents/guardians in proceedings in which a parent or other person seeking contact or residence arrangements is alleged to have or has committed domestic abuse or other offences relevant to a risk of harm to a child or parent/guardian. Such other offences may include, but are not limited to, abuse of a child, assaults, sexual assault, murder or other violent crime.
The Government are also aware of the potential for multiple and repeat court applications to coerce and frustrate victim parents. Therefore, lastly the panel will also gather evidence on the handling of repeat applications within the family justice system and the use of barring orders under section 91 (14) of the Children Act 1989.
The membership of the panel will be drawn from academia, third sector organisations, the judiciary and officials from the Ministry of Justice. I will ask the panel to conduct a Call for Evidence and report within three months of its establishment. This will enable the Government to take, as a matter of urgency, evidence-based decisions about whether and what changes are necessary to current protections.