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Brunel lawyer on C4 Dispatches: devastating decisions by Family Courts

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Brunel Law School’s Dr Adrienne Barnett is interviewed tonight on Dispatches which shows how police can forcibly remove children from safe loving homes.

Channel Four’s flagship news programme has harrowing footage of how police, following family court orders, drag terrified children from their beds in the night to be sent to live with their father.

Family courts and domestic abuse specialist Dr Barnett advised programme makers set to reveal for the first time what really goes on in the secretive family courts.

“Family courts are there to protect children and parents from abuse,” said Dr Barnett.

“Instead, parents’ accounts of abuse of themselves and their children are met with suspicion and disbelief. They are encouraged to co-parent with their abusers.

“Some are advised against reporting domestic abuse at all because it may be seen as parental alienation and they may risk having their children sent to live with their abuser.

“Yet all this happens outside the public gaze because a 61-year-old law bans reporting on family courts cases without the court’s permission.”

Candour TV commissioned Dr Barnett to report on the biggest ever survey asking court users and people working in family law about their experiences. Forty-two orders for this type of removal were reported over the last three years from among 297 experienced family solicitors and barristers. There are at least 13,000 solicitors and barristers practising family law in England and Wales.

Most legal professionals felt the lower courts, where most cases are heard, are particularly letting down victims of domestic abuse and their children. Four out of five lawyers said magistrates have a poor or very poor understanding of domestic abuse and coercive control. One in three said District Judges also have a poor or very poor understanding of these issues.

More than 2,000 parents felt the judge was actively hostile towards them. More than 70% of both mothers and fathers were unhappy with the outcome. Sixty-seven per cent agreed or strongly agreed that their children’s mental health had been affected by family court proceedings.

Cases take on average 18 months to complete, with one in 10 lasting more than five years. The average cost of proceedings is about £13,000, though one in 20 said they had spent more than £100,000.

“It is essential family court judges, magistrates, professionals and experts have full, trauma-informed training on domestic abuse, as recommended by the Ministry of Justice Harm Panel, and are alive to the tactical use of accusations of parental alienation,” said Dr Barnett.

Fronted by journalist Louise Tickle, who has fought for transparency in the family courts for longer than five years, 'Torn Apart - Family Courts Uncovered' airs this evening (Tuesday 20th July) on Channel 4’s Dispatches at 10 pm. Dr Barnett’s full final report publishes later this year. Read her interim report here.