Celestine Greenwood welcomes ruling on family court’s approach to domestic abuse

March 31, 2021

Celestine Greenwood from Exchange Chambers has welcomed the handing down and publication of the Court of Appeal’s judgment in 4 joined domestic abuse appeals – Re H-N and Others (children) (domestic abuse: finding of fact hearings) [2020] EWCA Civ 448.

The court was concerned with 4 appeals from orders made in private law Children Act 1989 proceedings each of which involved allegations of domestic abuse.

This appeal represents the first substantive review of the Court’s approach to cases of domestic abuse allegations since the decision in Re L [20002] 2 FCR 404; [2000] 2FLR 334 some twenty years ago.

As the Court of Appeal notes approximately 40% of private law cases involve allegations of domestic abuse and given that “the task of reviewing the approach to domestic abuse is a complicated one in respect of which the understanding of society, those who work with victims, and politicians and professionals, is developing all the time,” [19] this timely guidance, somewhat limited as the Court of Appeal acknowledges it to be, is to be welcomed.

Key ‘headlines’ from the judgment that are of general application include a statement that PD12J remains “fit for purpose,” endorsement of Hayden J’s judgment, and in particular his plea that coercive and controlling behaviour to be afforded greater prominence and understanding, in the recent case of F v M [2021] EWFC 4, guidance in respect of finding of fact hearings (especially as to the need for procedural proportionality), guidance about the interplay of criminal law concepts in such cases and, a recognition that Scott Schedules are not an apposite tool for pleading allegations of domestic abuse. This last point will no doubt find much favour with lawyers and the Court of Appeal’s decision not to suggest an alternative tool perhaps leaves room for some creative lawyering and drafting.

The press summary of the case can be found here and the full Judgment here.

Celestine Greenwood joined Exchange Chambers as part of a 14-strong family law team from Chavasse Court Chambers in November 2020.