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Entries in consultation (13)


Coercive control should include denial of contact

The Scottish Government recently sought views on proposals to change the law on various aspects of domestic abuse and sexual offences. The proposals, entitled Equally Safe: Scotland's strategy for preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls  were published last summer.

The proposals set out in the recent consultation focus on specific offences concerning domestic abuse and the non-consensual sharing of private, intimate images, the introduction of statutory jury directions in sexual offence cases, the extra-territorial effect of the law concerning sexual offences committed against children and the circumstances in which a court can grant a non-harassment order.

Of course, none of these are experienced only by women and girls.

The overarching question posed in the consultations is “whether the current criminal law reflects the true experience of victims of long-term domestic abuse,including coercive control, and whether a specific domestic abuse offence would improve the ability of people to access justice through effective prosecution ofdomestic abuse”.

We believe the current ‘gendered definition’ of domestic abuse is in danger of painting law and policy in Scotland into a cul de sac. Gendered analysis can be and often is a useful tool for interpreting issues in our society - in the same way as can analysis by age, class, race or sexuality - but it is not the holy grail. Even the statistics presented in the Equally Safe guidance in support of the proposals hardly sustain the heavy interpretation placed on them.

Both police recorded statistics and the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey over many years have shown a consistent trend in which the domestic abuse is not exclusively experienced by women. The proportion experienced by men and boys has grown steadily over the 20 years in which statistics have been gathered.

However, FNF Scotland does not wish to stray beyond the limited area of our own casework and we focused our submission on the questions referring to 'coercive control'. The full text of our submission will appear on the consultation website in due course but the main points are:

  • Our casework reveals to us the wilful disruption of meaningful contact between a non-resident parent and his children is a form of coercive control that is currently overlooked, virtually never recorded and appears to be inconvenient to the prevailing narrative. It is overwhelmingly experienced by male non-resident parents. The further victims are a generation of Scotland’s children.
  • A high proportion of the non-resident fathers who contact us report that they experience the restriction or outright denial of parenting time with their children by their former partner as a form of domestic abuse.
  • We hear repeatedly of occasions where the non-resident father has arrived to pick up his children for agreed contact and has been told “they’re no coming – and there’s nothing you can do about it”! This happens even when there is a court order for the contact to take place as well as when there is an informal agreement for contact. In the latter case the entire control of whether to fulfill the arrangement  is in the control of the parent with care. We know that some non-resident parents (approximately 90% of whom are fathers) have attempted to report these incidents to police as instances of domestic abuse but are invariably told that this is a “civil matter”. One father was simply told by the desk officer to “go away and grow up”.
  • Our experience, drawn from extensive casework, is that control of a non-resident parent’s time with his children covers a spectrum from a casual cultural presumption that “it’s a mother’s right to give or withhold” to examples of overt intention to break the relationship entirely.  This is a scenario that is happening daily across Scotland and is a brutal form of coercive control that is used with impunity against former partners. It is also a form of child abuse in the damage it may do to the wellbeing of the children involved.
  • The legal remedies for failure to comply with a court contact order are at present slow, expensive and ultimately unsatisfactory because they require the victim of coercive control (the person whose contact is denied) to raise an action that may damage the relationship with the children if it is seen as the father threatening the mother with punishment.
  • We feel that unfounded and unjustified denial or control of the opportunity for a non-resident parent to fulfil his Paternal Rights and Responsibilities (as encouraged in other areas of Scottish Government policy) should be included explicitly as an offence within domestic abuse.

Reform moves a step closer for civil cases in Scotland

The newly published Courts Reform Scotland Bill is intended to overhaul the whole system in order to direct proceedings to the most appropriate judge and court and make civil justice quicker and cheaper.

The most direct areas of concern for FNF Scotland are the proposals to develop  'specialisation' among sheriffs. The tradition up to now has been that any sheriff should be able to turn his or her hand to any matter that lay within the jurisdiction of Scottish civil law. Lord Gill, who carried out the original civil justice review, recommended increased specialisation in areas such as personal injury, commercial law - or family law.

In practice the larger courts already do this to some degree but it isn't really practical in the smaller courts. Some of the smaller courts are already marked for closure with their business being moved to bigger courts.

Another significant proposal is the creation of a new category of 'summary sheriffs' who might end up dealing with some contact and residence matters.

Lord Gill's review also highlighted the need for better forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) which could easily be relevant to family cases. The most often mentioned form of ADR in family cases is mediation in its various forms but some separated parents have also tried arbitration.

While ADR might not need legislation, FNF Scotland will be pressing for it not to be forgotten in amongst the court reform.


Consultation on civil court reform

Changes to the way civil courts work in Scotland have been announced at the start of a consultation period on proposed legislation

The proposals provide the legal framework for implementing the majority of recommendations of the Scottish Civil Courts Review, led by Lord Gill.

The proposals discuss a redistribution of business from the Court of Session to the sheriff courts, creating a new lower tier of judiciary in the sheriff court called the summary sheriffs with jurisdiction in certain civil cases and summary criminal cases.

Other proposed measures include the creation of a new national sheriff appeal court and a new national specialist personal injury court.

FNF Scotland welcomes views from members about these changes, and will respond to the consultation. Our response will include suggestions about the importance of identifying high-conflict cases at an early stage, the need for Sheriffs to have a clear understanding of how such cases can be resolved, and the need to avoid delay in re-establishing contact with children when cases reach court and for contact orders to be enforced effectively.


English consultation on co-operative parenting

Tim Loughton MPDivorced or separated parents who play the system to "freeze" their ex-partner out of a "meaningful relationship" with their children should face tougher penalties, according to English Children's Minister Tim Loughton.

His comments to the Westminster Justice Committee come as a consultation on co-operative parenting following family separationis launched by the English Department nfor Education.

The consultation refers to situations in which children's needs are being overlooked in disputes about care arrangements between separated parents.

It states that: "In too many cases one parent is left in a position where it is very hard to retain a strong and influential relationship with his or her child. The Government firmly believes that parents who are able and willing to play a positive role in their child's care should have the opportunity to do so."

"The aim of the proposed legislative amendment is to ensure that this happens in court cases and to reinforce the expectation generally that both parents are jointly responsible for their children's upbringing."

"The Government also believes that a tougher approach is needed in cases where court orders are breached, and it intends to explore the scope for additional enforcement sanctions for the courts."

Families Need Fathers Scotland is bringing these developments to the attention of Scotland's politicians.


Children's Rights Bill: children should not have to choose between parents.

Many responses to the recent consultation about next year's Scotttish Children's Rights Bill suggest that the Bill should include more than the original proposals if it is to make a real difference to children's rights.

Families Need Fathers Scotland raised a particular point in our response, relating to the way in which children are consulted.  While consulting with children and involving them in decisions is fundamental to Children's Rights, we suggested that they should not be put in the position of being asked to chose between their parents.

Our response mentioned situations where children are being asked for their views on contact or residence with one of their parents after separation.

While we fully support the need for these views to be obtained in a sympathetic and supportive manner, there are situations in which these views should only contribute to a final decision, not be a deciding factor.

In other words, it is not in the interests of children to put them in the position of having to choose between their parents.

We will pursue this point as the legislation proceeds.