Two people in suits walking towards a court door.

Training for family lawyers

Our cultural-change programme is creating transformation within the family justice system and strengthening practitioner capacity to respond to domestic abuse

In 2020, the Ministry of Justice Family Harms Panel report recommended a wide range of training “for all participants in the family justice system, including: a cultural change programme to introduce and embed reforms to private law children’s proceedings and help to ensure consistent implementation”.

Our own response to the review highlighted the need for specialist training across the whole family justice system and as a result, SafeLives has developed a cultural-change training programme to create systemic transformation within the family justice system and strengthen practitioners capacity to respond well to domestic abuse, kindly funded by the Legal Education Foundation.

This training, and its impact, is evidence-backed and thoroughly evaluated. You can learn more about the training development and learners’ evaluation in our report, “Is there a human being behind that?”

You can email our training team to book this training or get more information about running an in-house course – perfect for larger firms, chambers, Inns of Court, or law schools.

Email the training team

    In evaluating the course:

  • 58%

    rated the training 10/10

  • 90%

    of learners would recommend this training to a colleague

  • 85%

    said the training would have a 'very' or 'extremely' large impact on their ability to respond to victims of domestic abuse

About the domestic abuse family lawyers training programme

This one-day training course empowers family lawyers to take a trauma-informed approach to representing survivors of domestic abuse, understand the dynamics of abuse, recognise the effect of trauma on clients’ presentation, explain the impact of domestic abuse on children and young people, and enable clients to achieve best evidence. Moreover, the course keeps learners up to date with recent statute and case law.

This training is designed to enhance family lawyers’ skills in:

  • Identifying and evidencing domestic abuse and coercive control, including the legal framework, definitions and terminology around DA and the different forms that abuse may take with a focus on diversity and inclusion
  • Understanding the impact of new case law and statute on how the court understands and responds to coercive and controlling behaviour
  • Practising appropriate multi-agency working to manage risk and support clients safely
  • Identifying the impacts of abuse on victims and their children, and on survivor’s mental health and coping mechanisms
  • Using a practical approach to responding to trauma to achieve best evidence and effectively engage clients
  • At the end of the session we will hold a ‘case clinic’ where you can bring your domestic abuse case concerns.

Learners’ self-evaluations demonstrated significant increases across every objective after the training, in comparison with pre-training knowledge, as highlighted in our evaluation report.

“It has been a very eye-opening experience as it explained real life scenarios from victims and the solicitor's point of view.”

Previous learner

“I have gained a better understanding of how to screen for domestic abuse and now feel as though I have the tools to respond to clients suffering from domestic abuse.”

Previous learner

The background to the training

During the project, we undertook discovery research with survivors of domestic abuse, family legal professionals, and domestic abuse practitioners. We shared the results of this research in two interim reports which reveal a lack of understanding, trauma awareness and support for victims of domestic abuse in the family court. The reports also identify key gaps in lawyers’ understanding, including coercive control and other non-physical forms of abuse.

In our report: “Don’t complain” Domestic abuse survivors’ experiences of family lawyers, survivors told SafeLives they felt judged, often misunderstood, and ignored during the court process. A survivor who felt silenced by her lawyer told us she was advised not to complain when she noted that reports were incorrect or were missing vital information.

In our report:“Hit and miss” Family lawyers’ understanding of domestic abuse, legal professionals and domestic abuse practitioners identified key gaps in lawyers’ understanding.

These gaps can prevent them from being able to identify and appropriately respond to survivors of domestic abuse.

“I was told by my solicitors that the Judge had made it clear that by using the screens I will prove that I am unable to co-parent properly, in which case he would remove both children from me because I would be reinforcing my daughter’s fear of her father..”

Survivor supported by VOICES

Professionals from the legal sector also told us that despite some great examples of excellent practice, few lawyers tend to show they understand what it might feel like for survivors to go through the family justice system which can “replicate the power and control dynamics” of domestic abuse. 

We want to see a reformed and informed family justice system where survivors of domestic abuse have faith in the system – where the safety of adult and child survivors is paramount and where better, safer social justice outcomes are achieved.  

A better understanding of the manipulative behaviours, particularly coercion and control, used by perpetrators, and of the reasons why victims do not leave relationships, is essential for professionals associated with the family court process.

Much more than a training course, this culture change programme will have the power to improve outcomes for survivors, as lawyers are better equipped to advise their clients, and restore trust in the family justice system as survivors feel believed and protected.

We are proud to be working with VOICES who are our specialist partner ensuring survivor voice guides the development of the training.

The Advisory Group will input into the programme throughout the two and a half years of the project and will include domestic abuse organisations, family legal professionals, academics, and representatives from the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s Office.

The training will be subject to an evaluation and will be open to solicitors and barristers practising in family law in the following areas: London, Bristol, Bath and West Sussex.

“On a further hearing after the fact finding, where I had to again give evidence, I was advised that I could give evidence via video link ... I was told that this was absolutely available to me but my solicitor urged me to give evidence in person using the screen as again the judge being able to see and hear me clearly would assist in their decision making.”

Survivor supported by VOICES

You may also be interested in

Subscribe to our newsletter

Sign up to receive our monthly newsletters about the latest training, events, research and fundraising initiatives at SafeLives. Together, we can end domestic abuse, for everyone, for good.

Sign up