A dozen people stood resolute against the rain outside Bristol Civil Justice Centre to raise awareness of the family court within, and to call for reform of this hidden side of the judicial system.
Family court deals with cases of parental separation and has powers to determine how parents should split care of any children. Family court judges can issue contact orders, detailing how care should be provided by a parent, and even rule to take a child away from a parent altogether.
The court has been criticised by people with lived experience of it, as well as journalists and legal professionals for a lack of transparency in its decision-making, and for a perceived culture of dismissiveness towards survivors and victims of domestic abuse, which is a feature of 62% of cases.
A recent article in The Bristol Cable cracks the lid on some of the court’s practices and the effect it can have on the people who turn to it for justice.
Thursday’s (November 3) demo outside the courthouse on Redcliffe Street was organised by Hold Up Your Hands, a collective formed of women with direct experience of the family court. They last protested in July and, in a sign of growing awareness, today’s demo attracted a larger crowd.
Many of those protesting have been through the court, or are currently going through the court, themselves.
One protester, who didn’t wish to be named, said that she has been fighting court battles against her ex for nine years. The fight has cost her £50,000.
Like many women who have been through the court, she said that her partner has lied repeatedly in court but that nothing is done.
Another protesters told of how when her ex-partner admitted to lying in court his admission was taken as evidence of good character and the lie forgotten.
‘It’s like this old-fashioned, misogynistic system,’ said the first protest, adding: ‘It’s set up to support the abuser.’
A third protester described how her ex-partner used the court to take all of their money, including from joint business interests, leaving her with nothing. Even as the case was ongoing, she had full care of their children and was expected to look after them, despite having no funds. At times, she said, she was left to rely on friends and neighbours for handouts.
‘This whole process has been hell,’ she said, and has left her with health conditions caused by stress.
From January the family court will trial a project to allow reporters greater access to hearings and court documents, and to speak more openly to participants in hearings. This comes as part of a wave of transparency initiatives partly motivated by the pressure of campaigners.
What is clear is that there is an appetite for more family court reporting, and a need to shine light on the stories of those who go there seeking justice and find the opposite.
Did you go this protest? What did you think? Let us know in the comments or at firstname.lastname@example.org.