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Overhaul planned for family courts to protect DA survivors

Increased use of separate entrances, different waiting rooms and protective screens to shield domestic abuse victims from their alleged abuser are among measures the ministry of justice plans to introduce in a reform of family courts.

Ministers will also review how best to change the law on barring orders to ensure the victim and children are protected from further proceedings, such as child-access arrangements, which can be used as a form of continuing abuse.

The proposed changes follow a review by an expert panel made up of representatives from charities, the judiciary, family law practitioners and academia into how family courts handle domestic abuse and other serious offences.

The panel, which took the views of more than 1,200 individuals and organisations, raised concerns that victims and children were being put at unnecessary risk and found an adversarial process in the family courts often worsened conflict between parents.

A new, investigative approach will be tested in a pilot project at integrated domestic abuse courts which will consider family and criminal matters in parallel to provide more consistent support for victims. Emphasis will be placed on getting to the root of a problem, ensuring all parties are safe and are able to provide evidence on an equal footing, the ministry said.

Other planned changes include review of domestic abuse perpetrator programmes; more research on the long-term effects of domestic abuse on children; and improved training for all professionals in the family justice system.

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