Jenny Beck and Cris McCurley of Ben Hoare Bell have been at the forefront of the campaign for an independent inquiry into the failure of the family courts to protect victims of abuse and their children from domestic abuse.
The campaign is in response to a lacklustre commitment by the MOJ to hold a short, 12 week inquiry which would not be independent and which would not rely on expert evidence from lawyers working in the domestic abuse field. Such an approach would not be robust or even evidence led.
Unsurprisingly leading voices in Family law have condemned this approach, with retired senior Family Judge Sir Paul Coleridge remarking in an interview on the Victoria Derbyshire show that such a short inquiry would not make any meaningful discoveries, given the complexity of domestic abuse.
125 cross party MPs, led by Labour’s Louise Haigh, wrote to the Ministry of Justice demanding an independent inquiry. Jenny Beck and Cris McCurley supported this and wrote an open letter to the MoJ, which was co-signed by approximately 140 prominent lawyers all calling for an Independent Inquiry and emphasising the importance of consulting experts and giving the inquiry the time required to fulfil its purpose. The letter was also co-signed by 12 QC’s, the current Victims Commissioner (Dame Vera Baird) and the Immediate Past President of the Family Bar Association.
Read the open letter here – Letter to David Gauke MP
Fortunately, there are many in Westminster who are committed to a full and robust inquiry being undertaken. Following a successful meeting between Jenny, Cris and the Shadow Minister for Justice, Richard Burgon, he pledged his support to the campaign and is committed to making a positive change to remedy the increasingly concerning situation in the family courts.
Following the meeting, the Shadow Justice Minister tweeted that the MoJ needed to speak to legal specialists when conducting in the review of the treatment of Domestic Abuse in the family courts.
Shortly afterwards, Jenny and Cris were invited to meet with Justice Minister Paul Maynard. They urged the Minister to ensure that the panel listened to domestic abuse legal specialists and to victims of abuse, and that they consider their evidence. We are pleased that the Minister committed to taking this forward to the Chair of the inquiry. Jenny and Cris also raised the issue of the need for specialist BME services and expertise.
The Minister also acknowledged that a much more in depth review of the Family Justice Service was required, and that the 12-week review already in place would be seen as the starting point, rather than the conclusion, of the Inquiry.
We are already one month into the 3 month inquiry and so far the panel has only met once. Evidently this is far from the progress that had been hoped for and accordingly Jenny and Cris have contacted the MoJ to offer their further assistance.
If you are a family practitioner and would like to support the campaign, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
Jenny is an award-winning family lawyer, committed to accessible justice and the rights of the individual. She is an entrepreneurial business leader, successful in creating and running high performing teams.
She is the former Chair of:
Law Society’s Access to Justice Committee
The ABS and New Law Advisory Council
Current Co-chair of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group.