Mark Kerrison/Alamy Live News
Children must be prevented from having contact with a parent if there is any risk of abuse, including psychological trauma, judges have been told.
Court orders must not even be made for a child and a parent to see each other under supervision at a special contact centre, the new guidelines say.
The measures from the most senior family judge in England and Wales come after a series of cases where children were harmed or even killed during contact with a parent. In one case, the two sons of Claire Throssell were killed by their father on a weekend access visit. Throssell has since been among those campaigning for a change in the law.
Sir James Munby, president of the High Court’s family division, has also called for proposals restricting cross-examination of alleged victims by alleged perpetrators to be enacted. The measure was part of the Prison and Courts Bill, which fell with the calling of the snap general election in April.
Women’s Aid, which has campaigned for clearer and stricter guidance, said that judges would also be more accountable under the new rules, with requirements to explain why any contact order would not expose a child to further harm.
Katie Ghose, the group’s chief executive, paid tribute to Sir James and other senior family judges as well as the Ministry of Justice. “We are pleased that they have taken on board [with] some of the recommendations Women’s Aid made alongside our expert advisory group to bring about much-needed changes to the way the family courts handle these cases,” she said.
“We want to see children’s safety at the heart of all decisions made by the family courts and this cannot be done without a thorough understanding of domestic abuse, including coercive control, and the devastating impact it has on children.”
Judges and magistrates now need to be provided with compulsory training to make sure that they follow the guidance properly and get child contact decisions right every time, she added.
Judges are required to follow the new guidance, which has a clearer and broader definition of domestic violence beyond physical abuse to include domestic abuse, coercive control and harm.
It states that interim contact orders should not be ordered where there are findings of domestic abuse, or where a risk assessment has flagged an ongoing risk of abuse.
Where contact is ordered, judges must explain why there is no ongoing risk and why contact is in the child’s best interests. Where possible courts must also put in place special protection measures so that survivors and their children are safe while attending court.