Today my campaign to reform the way family courts treat survivors of domestic abuse has made it to the front page of The Guardian. I really hope this will help the campaign deliver desperately needed reform.
Back in September I co-sponsored a Commons debate on domestic abuse. For me it was the chance to talk on the record about the journey I had been on since becoming an MP where I now meet, support, and listen to many people who have endured unimaginable horror within their own home. It is mostly, but not always, women that I have met and who have suffered.
There was one aspect of the abuse they have suffered that surprised me the most and that was their treatment in family courts.
In criminal court people convicted of a crime, or even in most cases accused of a serious crime, cannot represent themselves and cross examine their victims. This is for very obvious reasons. But in the family courts they can and it is an unvarnished, unrelenting nightmare for all those who have to suffer it.
Habitual and convicted abusers know this and have started using the courts to continue the abuse. Let me give you an extreme example. I have met a family who’s daughter / sister was beaten, abused, and finally murdered by her partner and yet from prison, from where he is serving a life sentence, he sued for custody of the daughter he also tried to murder. Why? Because he knew by doing so he could continue to inflict suffering. In this case he chose to represent himself, and under the nose of the judge and police, the very people and institutions here to protect us, he questioned the mother and sister of the person he had beaten to death.
I have now met too many women who have gone through this and if it’s painful for me to hear the stories and meet those who suffer just imagine what it’s like to go through it. The consequences for profound for those who go through it – breakdowns, medication, and a life that needs rebuilding all over again.
And what’s worse, due to the almost total cuts to legal aid, more and more abuse survivors have no choice but to defend themselves without any representation at all.
I am angry to the point of fury about this. And, as I said in my speech, I am ashamed that I’ve got to this age before knowing this was happening within our own legal system.
After my speech I started working with a wonderful Guardian journalist who I introduced to some of the women I had met or turned to me for help at one point in their pathway out of an abusive relationship. The journalist, Sandra Leville, invested so much time into understanding the issue that she even came to Hove for a series of discussions.
I have posted a link to the article here, please read it when you have time (I know everyone’s busy at this time!) and let me know what you think.
I’m not going to stop until family courts are reformed to give more rights to victims. Just meeting one victim was enough to shock me into action yet I have now met so very many. I’ve invited survivors to the Commons for discrete discussions with MP’s so more can find out about this horror, I’ve taken legal advice, I’m working with the media to raise the profile of this terrible situation, and I’ve visited Rise, our local refuge that support all survivors of abuse and specialises in LGBT abuse issue too.
But most of all I give my word that I will not relent until reform is delivered. Yours, Peter