Monthly Archives: December 2020

Domestic Abuse, Family Justice and Hate Laws 2020: A Summary

Royal Courts of Justice, London

Aside: I promised I would not usurp this site to post my book reviews any more. However, for those who may be interested, my book reviews can now be found on my technical site. The latest is Martin Chuzzlewit.

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There has been such a lot of legislative/judicial activity on domestic abuse, family justice and hate crime laws in the last six months of 2020 that it has been difficult to keep up – and prohibitively difficult for individuals to read, digest and critique all of it. Here I pull together a summary of sources.

Domestic Abuse

The Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 has completed its passage through the House of Commons. It had its first reading in the Lords on 7th July but still awaits scheduling of its second reading as I write (12/12/20). As it stands now it is here.

The Bill has a long history. It’s second reading in the Commons was way back in October 2019, and the prelude to the Bill was the consultation initiated in March 2018.

You can read my precis of key parts of this long Bill here, with an update here.

All Bill documents can be found here, and in particular the 95 submissions to the Public Bill Committee in 2020. Ten of these were male-friendly, the other 85 were overwhelmingly feminist (with a few nominally neutral). The male-friendly ones were,

The 10% representation by male-friendly voices in written submissions to the Committee may seem poor, but it was infinitely better than the 0% invited to give evidence in person. The Public Bill Committee took evidence from, and only from, the following,

  • Nicole Jacobs, Designate DA Commissioner
  • Southall Black Sisters
  • Latin American Women’s Rights Service
  • Somiya Basar / Saliha Rashid
  • Women’s Aid Federation of England
  • End Violence Against Women Coalition
  • Refuge
  • Safelives
  • Hestia 
  • Gisela Valle, Step Up
  • Migrant Women UK
  • Dame Vera Baird QC, Commissioner for Victims & Witnesses
  • Local Government Association
  • Welsh Women’s Aid
  • Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS)

The Draft Statutory Guidance Framework associated with the Domestic Abuse Bill was published in July’20.

One rare potential gain for fathers is in the “Examples of controlling or coercive behaviour” which includes, “parental alienation, including preventing children from spending time with one parent or grandparents”. This is very welcome, but it remains to be seen if it is retained longer term, bearing in mind that the Guidance can be amended unilaterally by the Home Office at any time.

Another potentially useful clause in the draft Guidance is: “Domestic abuse perpetrators can be particularly adept at manipulating professionals, agencies and systems and may use a range of tactics in order to perpetuate contact with and control over the victim. These can include causing or creating vexation or using the system against the victim by making false or vexatious allegations”. The phrasing clearly has in mind an abusive man wanting to maintain “contact and control” over his female (ex)partner. But we may reinterpret it alternatively as, “Domestic abuse perpetrators can be particularly adept at manipulating professionals, agencies and systems and may use a range of tactics in order to perpetuate frustration of contact with, and monopolise control over, the children. These can include causing or creating vexation or using the system against the victim by making false or vexatious allegations”.  

This detailed deconstruction of the Guidance was sent to the Home Office by GenderParityUK.

Family Justice Review 2020

The composition of the Panel conducting the Ministry of Justice’s Family Justice Review caused some consternation when it was announced in 2019. I can’t imagine why; it was every bit as balanced as the other panels & groups you will find listed here. The panel was chaired by MOJ and consisted of,

  • Melissa Case & Nicola Hewer, Joint Directors of Family and Criminal Justice Policy, MOJ (Chair)
  • Professor Rosemary Hunter FAcSS, University of Kent
  • Professor Mandy Burton, University of Leicester
  • Professor Liz Trinder, University of Exeter
  • Neil Blacklock, Development Director, Respect
  • Eleri Butler, former Chief Executive at Welsh Women’s Aid
  • Lorraine Cavanagh QC & Dierdre Fottrell QC (joint representatives), Association of Lawyers for Children
  • Mr Justice Stephen Cobb, Judiciary
  • Nicki Norman, Acting Co-Chief Executive, Women’s Aid
  • District Judge Katherine Suh, Judiciary
  • Isabelle Trowler, Chief Social Worker for England (Children & Families)

Not listed above is Dr Adrienne Barnett, author of the Literature Review, whose works are critiqued here.

The review was (ostensibly) focussed on assessing the risk of harm to children and parents in private law children cases. The press releases following completion of the review are here and here. In particular the reports produced are,

So appalling is the bias, prejudice and outright dishonesty in the above reports that an application has been launched for a Judicial Review. Terry White must be congratulated on his energy and persistence in this matter. Key documents as they stand at the time of writing (12/12/20) are (noting that the MOJ is the Defendant in this context),

Meanwhile, the MOJ has started to progress the issues raised in their June Implementation Plan. On 9th November’20 it was announced that, under the title “Child protection at heart of courts review” that this latest review would examine how courts balance child safety and the right to family life. Specifically they state,

The review…will assess whether the right balance is being struck in private law cases between the risk of harm to a child and their right to have a relationship with both parents. Currently, the presumption of ‘parental involvement’ which the courts are required to follow in their judgements encourages a child’s relationship with both parents, unless the involvement would put the child at risk of harm. A recent review into harm in the family courts system found this presumption ‘detracted from the focus on a child’s welfare and safety – causing harm to children in some cases’.”

Does that sound like they have made up their minds already to you? And why is ‘parental involvement’ in scare quotes? The Advisory Group to the review consists of,

  • Rachel Thomas, Welsh Children’s Commissioner’s Office
  • Nicole Jacobs, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner
  • Peter Jackson LJ
  • HHJ Michelle Corbett
  • Jacky Tiotto, CEO Cafcass
  • Matthew Pinnell, Cafcass Cymru
  • Tammy Knox, Resolution
  • Michael Lewkowicz, Families Need Fathers

Not to be outdone, the judiciary themselves have their own process of reform of the same issues in play. The Private Law Working Group, chaired by the omnipresent Mr Justice Cobb, is the group which advises the President of the Family Division. The Family Solutions Group, formed this year, is a subgroup of the Private Law Working Group. Just three days after the MOJ launched its latest review, the Family Solutions Group published their report, “What about me? Reframing Support for Families following Parental Separation”, with a Foreword by Mr Justice Cobb. Para 35 reads,

For cases that do not engage the court process, the starting point should be a presumption that involvement of a parent in the life of a child will further the child’s welfare, provided that parent can be involved in the child’s life in a way that does not put the child at risk of suffering harm. Where there is any allegation or admission of harm by domestic abuse to the child or a parent, or any evidence indicating such harm or risk of harm, then the presumption should not apply.19 (my emphasis)

Footnote 19 which is referenced above reads,

Where there are proceedings, Practice Direction 12J provides that, where such allegation or admission has been made, the court must consider carefully whether the statutory presumption applies. Since the MoJ ‘Risk of Harm’ Report found evidence that within court proceedings Practice Direction 12J is being implemented inconsistently (p6), we take the view that the presumption should not apply to cases that do not engage the court process where abuse is alleged or admitted.”

The ’Risk of Harm’ report referred to above is the MOJ’s June family justice review report, the very same for which there is an outstanding application for Judicial Review.  

Put the above stipulations together and you arrive at this summary: if there is an allegation then the presumption (that involvement of a parent in the life of a child will further the child’s welfare) is to be set aside. This sounds like an attempt to overturn primary legislation to me, but it is not the first time Cobb J has tried it (see here and here).

Membership of the Family Solutions Group is,

  • Helen Adam (Chair) – Mediator, Solicitor (non-practising)
  • Karen Barham – Mediator, Parent Coordinator, Solicitor
  • Caroline Bowden – Mediator, FMC board member, Solicitor (non-practising)
  • Charlotte Bradley – Solicitor, Mediator
  • Brian Cantwell – Family Therapist, Resolution Family Consultant
  • Elizabeth Coe – National Association of Child Contact Centres
  • Mike Coote – Cafcass Adrienne Cox – Mediator, former FMSB board member, Solicitor (non-practising)
  • HHJ Martin Dancey – Designated Family Judge for Dorset
  • Jan Ewing – University of Exeter
  • Claire Field – Parenting Apart Programme
  • Dickie James MBE – Staffordshire Women’s Aid
  • Mary Mullins – National Youth Advocacy Service (prior to August’20)
  • Patrick Myers – DWP Reducing Parental Conflict Programme
  • Chris Palmer – Ministry of Justice
  • Beverley Sayers – Mediator, FMC board member, Therapist
  • Anna Sinclair – Cafcass Cymru
  • Debbie Singleton – National Youth Advocacy Service
  • Judith Timms – National Youth Advocacy Service
  • Jane Wilson – Mediator, Solicitor-Advocate, FMC board member

Reassured?

There is also a higher level Statement from the Family Justice Board (the group that actually matters and to which the lower Groups report). The “Family Justice Board Statement: priorities for the family justice system” is supposed to be linked from here – but it isn’t as I write (appears to be a cock-up). I’ll insert the correct link as and when I find out what it is. However it does link to a document from the lower Private Law Advisory Group dated 9/12/20.

Nascent Hate Crime Legislation

I have posted previously on my response to the Law Commission’s Hate Crime Consultation. Philipp Tanzer’s detailed analysis of the Consultation report is here.

There is a private member’s Hate Crime (Misogyny) Bill, proposed by the ever-egalitarian Wera Hobhouse, currently scheduled for its second reading in the (Westmintser) House of Commons on 15th January 2021. There is also a Hate Crime (Misandry and Misogyny) Bill, proposed by Philip Hollobone, due for its second reading on the same day. That should be interesting, giving the usual culprits every opportunity to explain to us yet again why equal protection for both sexes is actually vile misogyny. (To avoid any doubt, I am equally opposed to both Bills, partly on principle because all so-called hate crime is thought crime and hence anathema, but also because the gender-inclusive approach will, in practice, be used only against men anyway).

There is also a Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill under consideration by the Scottish parliament. I have discussed this in a previous post. It does not include sex/gender but would give Scottish Ministers the power to do so (oddly bypassing their own Parliament).

In Northern Ireland, on 6 June 2019, the Department of Justice announced the commissioning of a (so-called) independent review into hate crime legislation in Northern Ireland to be conducted by Desmond Marrinan (a former judge). The review was published in November’20. I’ll not attempt a summary, but it recommends inclusion of sex/gender in a neutral manner (not specific to misogyny) and also recommends the creation of a Hate Crime Commissioner (a suggestion also raised in the English Consultation, but not within the Scottish Bill).

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I’ve avoided much in the way of commentary in the above summary of sources. However, it is fairly clear that the outcome can only be to further progress the feminist agenda – not surprisingly as all the initiatives originate from within that axis. We may have the odd small gain, but the overall picture is yet further deepening of male disadvantage, male social alienation and the destruction of fatherhood. Two thoughts on activism,

Despite being largely/entirely ignored, it is still worth pushing back against these authoritarian measures – on principle. To do nothing is to be complicit. Standing up and objecting is an obligation.

But do not expect such action to be the road to success. Our pressing obligation is to make young men aware of the traps lying ahead of them, before they find out the hard way.