HC Deb 17 March 2003 vol 401 cc545-6W
Stephen Hesford

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department if she will make a statement on the Lord Chancellor's Department's policy on reducing domestic violence. [102182]

Ms Rosie Winterton

The Government are committed to tackling domestic violence. My Department's main responsibility as a member of the Inter-Ministerial Group on Domestic Violence is to develop coordination between the criminal, civil and family courts to make sure that victims of domestic violence and their families have a swift and effective route to protection, and perpetrators of violence are brought to justice. We intend to do this through improving training and raising awareness amongst the professional judiciary and magistrates.

My Department recently launched a guide on civil remedies and criminal sanctions against abusers aimed to assist those who advise victims of their options.

Where necessary we will improve court processes through legislation, as we did with the Adoption and Children Act 2002 (ACA 2002) and the Children Act 1989. As a consequence of the ACS 2002, the application form used to apply for contact or residence will be amended so that the applicant can indicate, and give details about, whether abuse has taken place. The respondent will then also have a chance to comment. This will mean that judges will be aware early in the proceedings; that domestic abuse is alleged and findings of fact can be made before contact or residence are considered.

We have also published guidelines for the courts and other professionals which provide a structured and consistent approach for all court users in how to deal with contact cases where domestic violence is an issue. Their effectiveness is being monitored and evaluated.

A safety stakeholder group was set up to advise on how to improve our handling of domestic violence in proceedings involving children, and promote safe contact. Representatives from the judiciary, academics, practitioners and parents' and children's organisations are involved.

We have carried out a mapping exercise of the provision of child contact services, including centres where supervised contact is available, to help us to develop a national network of child contact centres that work to agreed standards. We are supporting child contact centres on their strategy for expanding and improving their services by putting in extra Government funding [over £1.7 million over the past two years] and an additional £2.5 million from Children's Fund announced in February 2003.

We will be working closely wi;th colleagues in the Home Office and other Departments to take various issues forward through the forthcoming domestic violence consultation paper and proposed subsequent draft bill later in the year.

With the help of our key stakeholder advisory groups we will continue to identify further action in every area of our responsibilities, and in those areas of responsibility that we share with other Government Departments, to make sure that tackling domestic violence and protecting its victims (adults and children) are given the priority they deserve.