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2HA3X54 Previously unissued photo of Conservative MP for Burton Kate Griffiths outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London. Former Conservative minister Andrew Griffiths has been found to have raped and physically abused his wife by a family court judge who considered evidence at a private trial. Picture date: Thursday July 15, 2021.
Another legal victory for Kate Griffiths

Another legal victory for Kate Griffiths

2HA3X54 Previously unissued photo of Conservative MP for Burton Kate Griffiths outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London. Former Conservative minister Andrew Griffiths has been found to have raped and physically abused his wife by a family court judge who considered evidence at a private trial. Picture date: Thursday July 15, 2021.

A judge has overturned a costs order that made the Burton MP pay for her abusive husband’s supervised visits

Most parents will never need to know what a “contact centre” is. The idea of a social worker watching every interaction they have with their child is likely to feel intrusive at best, a violation of the right to private and family life at worst.

But professional supervision of the time a parent spends with their child is something a family court judge can order; it’s done when a parent is provenly abusive and there are concerns that they might pose a risk.

At the end of our podcast, ‘A finding of rape’, which detailed the abuse and repeated sexual assaults inflicted on Kate Griffiths MP by her ex-husband, the former MP and minister Andrew Griffiths, Ms Griffiths explained that she had been ordered by a family court judge to share the costs of professionally supervised contact.

This was so that Andrew Griffiths could spend time safely with their child. That order was made by the same judge who had found his repeated and violent domestic abuse proved.

Kate Griffiths was furious – and scared. 

“Even in light of the serious findings made against him in the fact-find, I was still being ordered to pay 50 per cent of the costs, and to still facilitate contact,” she said. “It’s not right. It feels like a continuation of the coercive control and the abuse.”

At the same time that Tortoise was battling in court for the right to expose Andrew Griffiths’ behaviour while in office, Kate Griffiths was in the Court of Appeal, challenging the order that insisted that she, as a survivor of domestic abuse and repeated rapes, should subsidise the costs of her abuser spending time with their child. She said that it was traumatising to her to have to facilitate and pay for the contact.

The judgement on her appeal was handed down after our podcast went out. And, just as when I read the fact-finding judgement in which Kate Griffiths proved Andrew Griffiths had abused her, it turned out that she had, once again, won.

Last October, I went to the Royal Courts of Justice to observe the arguments made in Kate Griffiths’ appeal, which were heard by Mrs Justice Arbuthnot. Importantly, she was hoping not just to succeed on her own behalf, but to persuade the judge to issue guidance that would help other victims trying to protect their children from a parent who was provenly abusive.

Although this was a family case – these are usually heard in private – appeals in the high court are held in public, so I can describe what I observed. And as the day progressed, it seemed that Mrs Justice Arbuthnot was, in truth, surprised that Kate Griffiths had been ordered to facilitate direct contact for their child with the man who had repeatedly raped her, let alone been told to pay for it.

There is a piece of law, called a Practice Direction, which specifically says that when a judge is considering whether to order that an abusive parent should have contact with a child, the impact not only on the child, but also on a victim “should in every case” be considered.  

Bizarrely, however  – because the judge who ordered both the direct contact and the sharing of costs, was the self-same judge who had believed Kate Griffiths about her ex-husband’s repeated and serious abuse – the impact had not been properly considered.

This didn’t make any sense to Kate Griffiths, who wondered why she’d put herself through the distress of being cross-examined in a family court as she tried to prove extreme and repeated abuse. It appeared not to make sense to Mrs Justice Arbuthnot either, because in her judgement, she said that the judge “should have given greater weight to the abuse Kate Griffiths had suffered at the hands of her husband, and should also have “considered the emotional safety of the mother… before ordering the resumption of direct contact”. 

Another judge will now have to hear the arguments for and against; this means more time in court, and more legal costs for Kate Griffiths, Andrew Griffiths and the taxpayer who pays for court staff and judicial time.

The Arbuthnot judgement says that the hearing at which the order for contact and shared costs was made was just an hour long, and the judge was pressed for time.

The family justice system is starved of money, judges, courtrooms and professional expertise. Added to this, nearly 50,000 cases a year see parents taking disputes over their children to court, a number that’s rising year after year.  

Legal aid for most private family cases was slashed in 2013, so parents who can’t afford a lawyer are left to fend for themselves. As a result cases are taking far longer to resolve, and are stacking up in frightening numbers. 

To keep any sort of control of their hearing lists, family judges are having to start early, hear cases over lunch and work late into the evening. Meanwhile, courts are appointing children’s guardians for children in complex and risky cases, but Cafcass, the organisation that provides representation for children in court, has acknowledged that capacity-wise it is on its knees; sometimes there is just no guardian to be had. 

Meanwhile, family cases squashed into too-long lists mean judges don’t have enough thinking time, and the risk of a poor, unjust or even dangerous outcome for children or abuse victims inevitably becomes greater. 

A system that only exists to protect children is, many who work in it tell me, no longer just cracking, but broken.  

Kate Griffiths is only one domestic abuse survivor out of thousands who look to the family justice system for protection as they try to rebuild their life and keep their child safe, after escaping the trauma of abuse. She told me that she regularly sees constituents in very similar positions to the one she faced – and still faces, as her court case is ongoing. 

Kate Griffiths has succeeded in persuading the court to reconsider what kind of contact her abusive ex-husband should have with their child. But what of the other victims of physical abuse, coercive control and rape without the financial means to appeal poor judicial decisions, who cannot?