A Thanet grandmother says she is terrified her toddler granddaughter will be snatched by the child’s father or be put at risk of harm after being ‘failed’ by the family courts system.
The woman, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, says a judgement granting access rights for the girl’s father despite evidence of domestic abuse during the relationship with her daughter means the family fears the child, who is nearly three, will be exposed to harm.
The family say the little girl has already been snatched once when the man trapped her mother in the house of one of his friends, resulting in the grandmother and family members having to travel to the residence to take the child back.
The grandmother said: “He is due to have my granddaughter overnight in about eight weeks time despite the social worker saying she will be at risk of experiencing drug taking and sexual harm. We are terrified.
“When we went to court the judge just wasn’t interested in hearing about the domestic violence even though we had reported it to the police, GP, social workers and Oasis Domestic Abuse Service.
“When the police are called for domestic abuse they have a questionnaire with 22 questions and one is whether the other partner has ever forced themselves sexually on them. My daughter said that happened 10 or 11 times and police have to record that as rape. She said she didn’t know it was rape.
“In the family court hearing the judge told her he would take her baby away if he found she had made up the rape claim.
“The father has been given unsupervised access. The right of the non resident parent to have contact with the child is being put before the rights of the child to have a family life free from sexual harm and experiencing abuse.
“Children are being left at the mercy of parents found to have previous offences for sexual misconduct and domestic violence and drug use with no further protection from police and social services because a judge has already ordered a child contact arrangement.
“Parents are thrown straight back into the domestic abuse with the perpetrator for the duration until the child is 16.
“My granddaughter isn’t even three yet, she has not got a voice to tell us if anything is wrong and she will be miles away from us. It is causing massive anxiety the nearer we get to him having her overnight and we now have to endure this for another 13 years.”
The child’s great-grandparents have spent some £30,000 on legal fees in the custody case and fear they will lose their home if they have to raise more money to go back to court.
A prohibited steps order was granted by the court which is aimed at preventing the father from attempting to snatch the child again but the grandmother says this is not good enough.
Family courts are bound to consider under Practice Direction 12J whether a child is at risk due to domestic violence in a relationship and apply this knowledge when making orders for child access.
The grandmother says this practice direction is being ignored in the courts and says even allegations of rape within a relationship are being brushed aside.
That issue was brought under the media spotlight earlier this month when High Court family judge Ms Justice Russell overturned a ruling by Family Court judge Robin Tolson as “flawed” after he ruled against a woman who said that she had been raped by her ex-partner, saying “the mother did nothing physically to stop the father.”
Justice Russell called for training for judges dealing with rape and sexual assault allegations in the Family Court in light of her colleague’s ‘lack of understanding’ that sex without consent is rape.
The grandmother says the court offered her daughter Freedom Programme training – to understand the signs of an abusive relationship – but the ex-partner was not ordered to take any type of programme.
She added: “The impact is being felt by the whole family, they feel like they can’t do this for another 13 years. We’ve basically been told we can’t do anything until something happens so I have to wait for my granddaughter to be damaged before any action is taken. I mean, how damaged does she have to get before someone will step in?
“The family court system just means the victims are left at the mercy of the abusive partner, male or female, with no back up. This has to change.”
Campaigners from ‘thecourtsaid’ will be demonstrating in London on June 6 in an ‘International Survivors Uprising’ to try and force change in the system.
The grandmother said: “I will be at that protest. The courts have to change.”
The government is also expected to reintroduce the Domestic Abuse Bill aimed at supporting victims and their families and pursuing offenders.
The Bill failed to progress through Parliament and achieve royal assent last year when the General Election was called and Parliament was suspended.
Natalie Page, founder of ‘thecourtsaid’ campaign, is among many who want to see an overhaul of the system.
Natalie, who is also a domestic abuse survivor, said: “We want changes in law to ensure survivors and families are safeguarded because there is not sufficient safeguarding in the system.
“Even with (the yet to come) passing of the Domestic Abuse Bill, it does not go far enough. We need extensive, robust changes in policy and law because we are living with unimaginable levels of risk. We are talking about some seriously dangerous offenders and the court is not safeguarding survivors at all. There is no risk management, it is contact (with children) at any cost even when there is significant evidence and convictions.
“Our demonstration on June 6 will be a global uprising, including demonstrations in New Zealand, Australia, the USA, Ireland and many others.”
Calls for review
Last year some 120 MPs called for an urgent inquiry into the way the family courts treat victims of domestic abuse or rape and their children.
It followed the revelation that a survivor of Rotherham’s child abuse scandal had been ordered to give the man who raped her a role in her son’s life.
MPs wanted a review of people having to face abusers in court and called for a change in the law to make it more difficult for abusers to have contact with children conceived through rape.
In May 2019 the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) announced a public call for evidence steered by a panel of key representatives from across family justice, to gather evidence on how the family courts protect children and parents in cases of domestic abuse and other serious offences.
The resulting Domestic Abuse Bill fell before it could be enacted into law because Parliament was ‘prorogued’ on September 10.
A House of Commons statement says: “While the proceedings to date have exasperated campaigners, such as the charity group Women’s Aid, it seems likely that a bill will eventually reach the statute book.”
Domestic abuse in the UK
- Each year nearly 2 million people in the UK suffer some form of domestic abuse – 1.3 million female victims (8.2% of the population) and 600,000 male victims (4%)
- Each year more than 100,000 people in the UK are at high and imminent risk of being murdered or seriously injured as a result of domestic abuse
- Women are more likely than men to be the victims of high risk or severe domestic abuse but men can, and are, also victims
- Seven women a month are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales
- 130,000 children live in homes where there is high-risk domestic abuse
- 85% of victims sought help five times on average from professionals in the year before they got effective help to stop the abuse (source Safe Lives)
Freephone 24 hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247 (run by Refuge)
Victim Supportline free on 0333 272 1297