Risk Domestic Abuse and Safe Contact
This edition of the University of Portsmouth's Interdisciplinary Webinar Series sees Leïla Choukroune, Professor of International Law and Director of the University of Portsmouth Thematic Area in Democratic Citizenship host a presentation by Dr Kieran Walsh, Senior Lecturer in Family and Child Law at the University of Portsmouth
Child contact cases frequently involve allegations of domestic abuse. As a result, courts must carefully balance a range of competing rights and interests, so as to ensure that risks are appropriately handled. In England and Wales, the process for managing cases like this is regulated by a court Practice Direction which provides guidance in relation to both risk assessment and risk management.
The concern with risk was central to the drafting of the Direction, especially following the publication of reports detailing instances of familial homicide (Women’s Aid, 2004, 2016) following family breakdown. Troublingly, some of these families had been engaged in litigation in the family courts and contact orders were in place. These reports presented compelling reasons to promote risk as an organising concept around which decisions relating to contact can be made. This is especially true given the introduction of the concept “unmanageable” risks in latest version of the Direction; courts are now obliged to ensure that contact will not expose children to an unmanageable risk of harm, leading to the implication that there are some risks which can be successfully managed so as to justify a contact order being made.
This webinar will highlight some preliminary findings of an empirical study into the understanding of manageable and unmanageable risks following the introduction of these categories. During this study, the court files of cases governed by the Practice Direction were reviewed so as to try to understand what kind of risks are thought of as being unmanageable, and what safeguards were put in place to ensure that those risks deemed manageable did not escalate or worsen. This has been done by examining the nature of the orders made, and reasons given for making these orders. In doing so, it asks whether children’s rights to protection were being adequately considered by courts.
Dr. Kieran Walsh is a Senior Lecturer in Family and Child Law at the University of Portsmouth. His research mostly focuses on legal issues relating to family violence, including domestic abuse and child protection. He is also interested in international aspects of family and child law, as well as theoretical approaches to these issues focused on the structures of modernity and perceptions of risk. A graduate of University College Cork, King's Inns and the University of Nottingham, he has worked in academia, legal practice and advised a number of NGOs.