‘Pathfinder’ Courts – a new problem solving approach to Court proceedings involving children and Domestic Abuse

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 brought a cultural change in how cases, involving children which have an element of domestic abuse, should be dealt with at court. However, there are still no major reforms in terms of how domestic abuse victims are protected within the court process.

We know that sometimes, Court Proceedings can be issued by a parent, wishing to engage in “Lawfare”, as another form of domestic abuse against their ex-partner.

A  worrying problems is the way ‘harm’ is treated within family proceedings. A significant development within recent years is the publication of the Ministry of Justice expert panel report – ‘Harm Report’ 2020. This report recommends the need for financial investment throughout the family justice system and the need for a ‘trauma-base’ approach to cases involving domestic abuse to improve victim support.

What we know is that trauma impacts the brain significantly, it can often cause mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and it is important that this impact is recognised within the court process for what it actually is.

A successful pilot was  launched, from the issues highlighted in the ‘Harm Report’  – ‘Pathfinder’ courts.

Pathfinder courts

There are only two Pathfinder courts in the UK, one based in North Wales and the other in Dorset. The aim of these courts is to enhance support for victims of domestic abuse by taking a more ‘investigative, multi-agency and problem solving approach’. This is done by sharing information between the court, local authorities and the police, to improve information sharing. It includes domestic abuse professionals sharing their risk assessments with the court so that parties experiencing trauma do not have to relive these events by repeating them at court.

Pathfinder courts promote a less adversarial approach to proceedings to minimise confrontation in the courtroom, and emphasise addressing the allegations of domestic abuse and other harmful behaviours.

These pilots will help safeguard victims of domestic abuse so they are not further traumatised by the court process and that better decisions are made about them and their children’s lives.

The recommendations made in the ‘Harm Report’, regarding Pathfinder courts require longer term development to run these new ideas. If these pilots are successful, there could be more Pathfinder courts across England and Wales, revolutionising the family justice system.

Jo Scott is a Senior Associate in the Family team at Sintons, to speak to Jo, you can contact her on joanne.scott@sintons.co.uk or 0191 226 7870.

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