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Entries in consultation response (3)

Monday
May012017

Domestic Abuse bill could help non-resident parents experiencing 'coercive control'

Families Need Fathers Scotland has submitted its observations  to the Scottish Parliament Justice Committee consultation on the Scottish Government's draft Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill which aims to introduce a new domestic abuse criminal offence of 'coercive control'.

From the perspective of the individuals who ask for our help FNF Scotland gives a qualified welcome to the Bill's proposal to create "a new offence of abusive behaviour towards a person’s partner or ex-partner covering both physical violence and non-physical abuse."

We have drawn the Justice Committee's attention to examples of coercive control exerted over a non-resident parent by the parent with most care. These range from the constructed ambush at handover to the persistent and pervasive controlling of the life of the non-resident parent.  We have listed the following examples from within cases raised with us:

  • Refusing to communicate at all
  • Refusing to communicate unless through (an expensive) solicitor
  • Delaying decisions on arrangements such as holiday dates until the last minute
  • Changing contact arrangements at the last minute without reason or explanation
  • Constantly being late for agreed or court ordered contact
  • Taking children away from school on holiday without notice or agreement
  • Refusing to engage with the non-resident parent on key decisions such as school placements
  • Instructing health providers not to engage with the non-resident parent
  • Demanding “cash for contact”
  • Demanding to know every detail of what the child does when with the non-resident parent in way they would refuse to reciprocate
  • Hiding a tracking or listening device in the clothes or toys of a child when the child is having contact with the other parent
  • Criticising the other parent’s parenting skills
  • Criticising and undermining the other parent in front of their children
  • Criticising the other parent’s choices of clothes or food while the child is with them
  • Demanding the right to withhold contact from a new partner
  • Making unfounded allegations about a range of matters both trivial and potentially criminal to friends, neighbours, family members directly and on social media aimed at isolating and undermining the character of the non-resident parent
  • Making unfounded allegations about a range of matters both trivial and potentially criminal to professionals putting the non-resident parent in the position that he is under constant pressure to prove his worth as a parent.

We reluctantly accept that there is at present a role for the criminal law to help tackle the kind of abusive conduct of ex-partners as outlined above.  In these circumstances we urge that there should be flexibility of sentencing options available to the sheriff or judge to include community disposals as alternatives to imprisonment and/or fines. The aim of sentencing should reflect the seriousness with which the court sees the offence but without inflicting further damage on the victim. We already hear from sheriffs in contempt cases that they don’t want the parent offended against to get the blame in the eyes of the children for “sending the other parent to gaol.”

FNF Scotland National Manager, Ian Maxwell, says: "At present non-resident parents experiencing coercive control feel unprotected by the law. If they report it to police they are told 'There's nothing we can do. It's a civil matter'. Or if there is a court order in place the only option is the slow, unpredictable and expensive route of raising a contempt of court action.

Our preference is for a broader overhaul of family law in Scotland that will give equality of recognition in public policy to the role both parents can play in the lives of their children. Scotland needs to move on from the prevailing acceptance of the adversarial approach in which parents ‘win time’ with their children from each other.

Until then, however, we believe the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill may be of use to a substantial number of the parents who ask for our help.

For the sake of clarity, we are focussing on the issues that affect non-resident parents because that is where we have first-hand knowledge and insight. That should not be taken as indifference to others whose experience of coercive control is covered by the Bill."

As the Bill proceeds through Parliament we will report on progress.

Thursday
May302013

Courts reform: culture change needed for family cases 

Families Need Fathers Scotland called for speedy and efficient administration of family cases, continuity of sheriffs/judges, and effective enforcement of court orders in our response to the recent Scottish Government consultation on the Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill.

The draft legislation covers a wide range of topics, as part of the major revamp of the civil courts. 

It proposes that a new "lower" tier of Summary Sheriffs are created, and asks specifically whether they should deal with family cases.

Our response indicated that "some of our members are concerned that ‘summary’ sheriffs may indicate a loss of status in family cases. That is a risk.  On balance we believe the new tier creates an opportunity to bring in a new generation to the bench and accelerate a culture change. We anticipate this may represent the first rung of a judicial career for experienced family law practitioners."

On the proposal to limit many cases to the Sheriff Court, we commented:

"A minority of our members have had experience of the Court of Session and they generally report a better experience than the larger number whose case has proceeded only in the sheriff courts."

"Our impression is that some of these cases might not have been so successful in some sheriff courts, especially where ‘new’ concepts such as shared parenting or parental alienation have been heard with respect and examined with care in the Court of Session but have been dismissed out of hand in some sheriff courts."

"Whichever Court hears the family cases, there is a need for sufficient training of sheriffs and judges in topics such as dispute resolution, domestic violence and its impact when experienced by both men and women, parental alienation, child protection, and the best procedures for consulting with children and ensuring continuity of contact."

"There is also a need for speedy and efficient administration of family cases, continuity of sheriffs/judges, and effective enforcement of court orders."

Thursday
Sep012011

FNF Scotland submits views on lay representation in court

Scottish courts should make it easier and simpler for people to represent themselves in family cases, and it should be possible for their non-legally qualified helpers (lay assistants) to speak up in court as well as offering whispered advice.

These points are made in a submission by Families Need fathers Scotland to a consultation on lay representation in the Court of Session and Sheriff Courts.  These views will be considered by a working group chaired by Lord Pentland.

In making the case for simpler and more permissive procedures, we suggest that various factors including the reduced availability of legal aid will lead to increased amounts of self representation in the Scottish Courts. 

The new rules should be consistent across all civil courts including any new courts arising from the implementation of the Gill review in coming years.

Our submission includes mention of how Mckenzie Friends operate in English and Welsh courts, where it is not unusual for them to be allowed to address the court, particularly when the person they are supporting is not confident or articulate.   

In support of this being allowed in Scotland, we mention the situation in which a parent has to be cross-examined, suggesting that it is preferable that this is done by someone other than his or her ex-partner if that person is representing themself.

FNF Scotland has already published a guide to representing yourself in the Scottish courts and are keen to hear experiences of party litigants.