Cafcass figures, parental alienation and domestic abuse prosecutions: The last week in family law

The latest figures for
public law (including care) applications and private law demand, for December
2019, have been published by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support
Service (‘Cafcass’), the organisation that looks after the interests of
children involved in family proceedings. In that month the service received a
total of 955 new care applications, involving 1,551 children. This was 28
applications (2.8%) fewer than in the same month the previous year. Cafcass
received 9,862 new care applications between April and December 2019 – 525
(5.1%) less than the same period in 2018. These cases involved 15,934 children
– 1,103 (6.5%) less than April to December 2018. As to private law demand,
Cafcass received a total of 3,284 new private law cases, involving 4,040
children. This was 7% (or 239 cases) higher than the same month the previous
year. In the nine months since the beginning of April 2019, Cafcass has
received 34,479 new private law cases – 1,897 (5.8%) more than the same period
in 2018. These cases involved 51,676 children, which is 1,975 (4%) more children
than April to December 2018.

A new study shows that estranged
fathers with an alleged or proven history of domestic abuse can use Parental
Alienation (‘PA’) claims to discredit mothers and gain parenting time with
their children. Dr Adrienne Barnett, a researcher at Brunel University London
examined all 40 reported and published private family law judgments in England
and Wales, from 2000 to 2019, in which parental alienation was raised. She
found that PA “has become part of a shrewd rhetoric in custody battles
concerning children, including those who experienced domestic abuse.” Findings
from those reviewed cases also showed mothers had little to no success when
claiming PA, despite evidence that the fathers were abusive and controlling,
suggesting a one-sided dimension to PA. The research identified a pattern of
abusive parents, usually the father, accusing the parent with ‘custody’ of
alienating the children against them. In some instances, this became grounds
for transfers of residence of the child. The research also raises questions
about the purpose and use of PA in private law proceedings in the family
courts. Dr Barnett commented: “Domestic abuse perpetrated by ‘political’ and or
‘irrational’ fathers was generally condemned by the courts, and their claims of
PA rejected. However, abuse by seemingly ‘normal’ fathers was frequently
filtered out of the proceedings and they have been increasingly successful in
PA claims”.

And finally, a joint report
published by Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (‘HMCPSI’)
and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (‘HMICFRS’)
has concluded that the handling of evidence led domestic abuse prosecutions
(i.e. where the victim does not support a prosecution) requires improvement.
Inspectors found that at all levels in the
police and Crown prosecution Service (‘CPS’) there was a clear recognition that
domestic abuse is a priority area of work and there is a desire to achieving
the best possible outcomes for victims. However, officers and prosecutors
should ensure that, at the outset of a case, consideration is given to how to
prosecute the case if the victim were to withdraw support. That would then lead
to a more detailed investigation at the scene, such as evidence from
neighbours, forensic and photographic evidence, etc. HMI Wendy Williams and HMCPSI Chief Inspector Kevin
McGinty said: “Domestic abuse can have a devastating impact on victims’ lives
and it is important that the police and CPS are proactive in their approach to
dealing with this type of offending. Both the police service and CPS are moving
in the right direction but much more can be done to ensure an evidence led
approach is considered a focus and priority, and it should be considered for
all cases at an early stage. Officers should prioritise effective evidence
gathering, and prosecutors should highlight it, by working on the assumption
that the victim may withdraw support, in order for the prospects of success to
improve.”