New guidance has been issued for judges and magistrates for fact finding hearings and domestic abuse in Private Law children proceedings in the Family Court.
The guidance has been informed by a landmark hearing concerning domestic abuse cases in the family courts which involved four cases including that of a Thanet mum.
The cases were heard in The Royal Court of Appeal – the second highest court in operation – in 2021 in a Judicial Review to consider how four family court cases, where rape, domestic abuse and/or coercive control allegations were involved, were dealt with.
The young mum’s case centred around her child and a contact agreement with the father which the Royal Court of Appeal accepts she did not make freely.
Her appeal to the Royal Court was against the ruling made by HHJ Richard Scarratt on 5 August 2019 which resulted in a consent order setting out time to be spent between the father and the child.
The mother’s representation said the judge was wrong to make an order by consent when there were unresolved allegations of serious domestic abuse, including rape. The appeal highlighted ‘wholly inappropriate comments’ made by HHJ Scarratt during an earlier hearing in March 2019 where the mother was threatened that: “if this goes on the child will be taken into care and adopted’.
Following the successful review the mum had a new judgment issued – with findings including forced sexual intercourse and recognition of the ‘gaslighting’ which forced her to question her sanity.
The review was heard by judges, President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane, Lady Justice Eleanor King and Lord Justice Tim Holroyde,
Sir Andrew McFarlane has now issued the new guidance which specifically references the Thanet mum’s case and others heard at the review.
The guidance is for judges and magistrates and outlines how procedure and issues within the court should be dealt with, including how to examine allegations of coercive and controlling behaviour.
In the Thanet mum’s case the original judge, HHJ Scarratt, had said if agreement were not made he would not hear any evidence on allegations of coercive and controlling behaviour.
However, when the case was brought back, this time before The Honourable Mr Justice Cobb, he found there had been emotional control/coercion of the mother and that the father had forced himself on the mother for sexual intercourse,” uncaring whether she was consenting or not.”
The judgement also found “the father did repeatedly allege that the mother suffered from bipolar disorder; I further and significantly find that there was no clear medical evidence that she did suffer such a condition.”
The judge agreed with the term of ‘gaslighting’ put forward by the mother’s representation at the Appeal Court, saying: “Dr Proudman’s use of the term ‘gaslighting’ in the hearing to describe this conduct was in my judgment apposite; the father’s conduct represented a form of insidious abuse designed to cause the mother to question her own mental well-being, indeed her sanity.
“The assertion to the mother and others were ostensibly given greater credibility by the fact that at the time the father was a mental health nurse; he may be thought (and doubtless wanted to be thought) to have drawn on specialist expertise or experience to make his diagnosis/assertion.”
The new Family Court guidance was issued on May 5. Find it here